The Disappearance of Sailor Simon Parkes

in Features

How would you feel if your son disappeared and you didn’t know what had happened to him? That is the situation that Margaret and David Parkes found themselves in thirty-five years ago. 

Simon, from Kingswood near Bristol, was just 18 years old when he disappeared after a night out spent with crewmates from HMS Illustrious where he was known to have visited bars on the Rock. The ship had docked in Gibraltar on the 12th December 1986, on its return to Portsmouth from a deployment to Asia and Australasia but
Simon never re-joined the ship. 

Insight asked Margaret why they decided to launch a new appeal now. “This initially began when GBC journalist Ros Astengo approached us with the idea of writing a book about our son Simon. Obviously this needs a lot of research and preparation and we began with a new appeal. It is an open case, so police in the UK and Gibraltar are still investigating.”

Simon had been shopping and drinking with his shipmates and was last seen leaving the Horseshoe Pub in Main Street, around 10.30pm. All his belongings were still on board the ship, including his passport, clothes and Christmas presents that he had bought for his family. The Navy carried out an extensive search but there was no sign of him anywhere on the Rock, and Simon was declared AWOL (absent without official leave) after failing to return to the ship. Margaret and David have not heard anything from him since then and she tells Insight about their theories surrounding Simon’s disappearance. “Over the years it has been widely reported about what happened to Simon on the night he disappeared. There are gaps in those theories and we believe the new appeal will encourage people with more information to come forward. Our belief is that Simon died that night and an individual, or individuals, were involved in his death.”

Ten years after his disappearance, his case was reopened after a possible link was suspected with two brutal murders carried out by former Petty Officer
Allan Grimson – who was serving on HMS Illustrious at the same time as radio operator Simon. Grimson was dubbed the ‘December Twelfth’ murderer after his confession to the murders of Nicholas Wright, 18, on 12th December 1997, and Sion Jenkins, 20, exactly 12 months later. Grimson told detectives how he viciously attacked the men after luring them to his Portsmouth flat, and the judge who sentenced him to a 22-year jail sentence said that Grimson was a ‘serial killer in name if not number’.

In January 2003, searches were carried out in some Gibraltar cemeteries by police, and after what detectives described as ‘new areas of interest’ were identified, a two week search of the Trafalgar Cemetery took place in December 2019 by the Royal Gibraltar Police in conjunction with the Hampshire Constabulary. The results of forensic tests on bone fragments found in Alameida Gardens proved not to be those of Simon. 

A parole hearing is being held in December for Grimson, when parole may or may not be approved, but if there is any evidence to link him to Simon’s disappearance the police are keen to find it as soon as possible.

If new information does comes to light as it has done over the years, it raises the hopes of Margaret and David that they will find out what did happen to Simon and this will give them closure.  “There are people out there who don’t know what happened, but have information that might lead us to the truth. There are also some who will know the truth or think they know the truth. I ask them, after all this time, to come forward and take away our pain and never-ending grief.”

“I try not to put Simon on a pedestal, he would not have wanted that. But he was a loving son and brother with his life ahead of him. He was funny, kind and thoughtful and also a teenager who would have a messy bedroom and was always hungry! He went away a boy and would have come back, given the chance, a man.” 

Margaret uses a quote written by a close school friend to sum him up: ‘Simon was my friend. My dear friend. Simon was so many things it’s hard to explain what a joy he was and what a character he was. He was funny, bright artistic and kind. Most of all he was caring.’

Not knowing what happened to Simon has affected not only the lives of Margaret and David but also their wider family, friends and acquaintances. “At first, some did not know what to say so it was left unsaid. Others supported us in different ways. Sadly, others close to us have died. The worst time was at the beginning because although we had hope that he was alive somewhere, we were sure he would have tried to contact us. After the initial shock, we tried to keep busy, always hoping. We needed to know, we needed information, and we needed support but didn’t know how to get it. We were numb.

Even now it is difficult to comprehend how many years have gone by. When the first police investigation began, around 2000, it was such a relief but that meant we also had to relive the past which was painful and public. 

So here we are, getting closer to the truth we hope. Time is running out for us, so this has to be the biggest appeal ever.”

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has made a plea for people to follow the Twitter account set up on behalf of the Parkes family and to provide information if they have any. Margaret is hopeful that new information will come to light because of this new push in the media. “We are so grateful for Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo asking people to follow the Twitter/FB account @SMissing1986 and to provide any information they have. It reiterates how important this case is to the people of Gibraltar. New information is coming in and we are encouraged that this will continue to grow.”

There is no doubt that Margaret and David will never
give up the search for Simon and are desperate to know what happened to their son. 

If you can help in any way or if an one has any information, please send it to:

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