POLICE are searching the garden of a disused Hampshire pub for the remains of a Sunderland man who disappeared almost 15 years ago.
Detectives investigating the suspected murder of Kevin John Palmer, who went missing on March 12 1999 after a night out with friends, sealed off the grounds of the former Gordon Arms pub, in Gordon Road, Fareham, for examination by specialist officers, Hampshire Constabulary said.
Mr Palmer, who was in his 30s, disappeared shortly after arriving in the UK from Spain where he was living at the time, a police spokesman said.
Officers at the time of his disappearance said Mr Palmer – who was nicknamed John Bon Jovi – had intended to travel to Newcastle, but at some stage arrived in Hampshire.
A man was arrested by Hampshire Constabulary in 2003 on suspicion of Mr Palmer’s murder but he was later released with no further action due to insufficient evidence.
A second man was interviewed in Spain, the spokesman said.
Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, from the constabulary’s Major Investigation Team (HMIT), said officers were pursuing leads following a routine cold case review.
He said: “A recent assessment of information received about the whereabouts of Kevin John Palmer prompted a line of inquiry, which has taken us to this address in Fareham.
“We are not able to give more details about the source of this information because of sensitive and confidential circumstances.
“Nevertheless, the considered opinion of our detectives is that this information justifies a search for human remains within the garden of the former Gordon Arms pub.”
Mr Barton said the evidence was “tangible enough to be examined in more detail at the scene” but it was not certain that any evidence would be found, and that people should be cautious with their expectations.
He said the last known sighting of Mr Palmer was at the Abshot Country Club in Fareham on the evening of March 12 1999, where he is believed to have taken a taxi with two men back to an address in Bishops Waltham.
Mr Barton said: “En route it is suspected that Mr Palmer became involved in a fight with the other two passengers in Curbridge and was left there.
“I am really keen to trace the taxi driver from that night. Please make contact with detectives from the Operation Arkholme team at Southampton Central police station.”
Mr Barton has also appealed to anyone who knew Mr Palmer in 1999 to come forward.
“Even after 15 years, the smallest piece of detail from a member of the public could prove to be an essential element in establishing a significant lead,” he said.
Police said Mr Palmer’s next of kin had been informed of the search in advance and added that no current or former residents of the Gordon Road address were under suspicion of any crimes.
Mr Barton said: “Although murder remains a prominent line of inquiry, detectives must keep an open mind about exactly what happened to Mr Palmer because a range of information has been received since 1999.
“An inquest in 2009 recorded an open verdict on Mr Palmer’s suspected death.
“I am not in a position to discuss the identities of previous suspects due to the delicate nature of these new inquiries.”
Witnesses or anyone with information should contact the HMIT at Southampton Central police station by phoning 101 and quoting Operation Arkholme, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. Mini-com users can phone 18001 101.