Preston cyber-sleuths use lockdown to help find missing teen

A group of tech-savvy students from the University of Central Lancashire are turning super-sleuths to help find a missing boy.

Tuesday, 23rd June 2020, 12:30 pm
A team of undergraduates and post grad students from UCLan have set up a cyber-sleuth busting squad in lockdown

The cyber six have been taking advantage of lockdown to put their online investigation skills to good use and have formed UCLan’s first Missing Persons Community Investigation Team.

The under and post graduate students have already started to investigate cyberspace for intelligence related to a teenager who disappeared without trace nearly 25 years ago..

Wendy Marsh, who is finishing her MSc Cybercrime Investigation, is leading forensic computing and forensic science student volunteers Samantha Blakey, Natalie Jones, Damon Hall, James Kelday and Matthew Livesey to search for any information regarding Damien Nettles, a 16-year-old who went missing from the Isle of Wight in 1996. He would have turned 40 in June this year..

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Wendy Marsh

The student detectives are fact checking via social media for discrepancies with the information provided to the police investigation, including checking the weather conditions on the day of the teenager’s disappearance and the relationship status of witnesses.

Damon ,20, a former St Cecilia’s RC High School and Preston’s College student,said “I decided to sign up for this exciting and important project because it seems like a good way to use my computer skills to help make a difference and help others.

“It’s also something I’m really interested in doing as a career so I’m thankful to be getting experience of this nature while trying to help a family get answers.”

Wendy, 27, from Wigan, said: "We are a fresh pair of eyes and are investigating what’s already out there in the public domain, be it on social media platforms, newspapers, comment sections or even historical satellite imagery.

"Almost everything that we choose to post online is publicly available for anybody to access, unless the privacy settings have been used effectively.

"What we’re doing is looking at every bit of information and seeing if we can use our skills to find anything that doesn’t sit right.”

John Dempsey, UCLan’s digital safety advocate and course leader for forensic computing, added: "Not only is this a valuable programme in terms of helping the family of missing children, it is also giving students a real-world investigative experience.”

Ian Allison executive dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, added: "This is an excellent initiative that is making a real difference to people’s lives. We are really proud of what our students are achieving.

"This work shows how important it is that students develop their interdisciplinary and leadership skills in this programme."

Damien’s mother Valerie said: "My son vanished from the face of the earth on November 2 1996. Families of missing people should know that everything possible is being done to find their loved one. Many families do not have this basic reassurance. I believe that Locate and the teams at Lancashire and South Wales have found a way to help our family."

Anyone wanting to know more about the programme, possibly to volunteer as an investigator, or to do academic research can email [email protected]