A DECADE after he vanished a coroner will decide if a timeshare salesman was unlawfully killed. His body has never been found.
Kevin John Palmer is thought to have been murdered after he disappeared after a night out in a pub and country club in Hampshire – but nobody has ever been charged or convicted over his death.
A murder inquiry was launched four years later when fresh evidence came to light that led detectives to believe Mr Palmer had met his death that night.
Now ten years since he vanished, an inquest will be held to determine how he was killed – even though his body has never been recovered.
The hearing, which will take place on Wednesday, will bring some closure to Mr Palmer’s family who have not been granted a death certificate, though they are sure he is dead.
It was in the early hours of March 13, 1999, that Mr Palmer – nicknamed Jon Bon Jovi because he had similar hair to the rock star – was last seen alive, having returned to England that day from his Malaga home where he lived with his wife and child.
He had spent a night at the Sir Joseph Paxton pub in Hunts Pond Road, Locks Heath, and the Abshot Country Club in Titchfield Common.
Detectives know he caught a taxi from there with two other men and a woman, travelling to Bishop’s Waltham during the early hours.
But a row broke out and the men are said to have got out of the vehicle, had a fight in Botley Road, near Burridge Social Club and the Horse and Jockey pub – and only two men got back in to continue the journey.
They made their way to Hoe Road, to the home of convicted drug smuggler John Howett who also owned a second property in the Costa del Sol.
In 2002 – three years after Mr Palmer vanished – Howett was jailed for his involvement in a drugs ring that saw £16m of cannabis smuggled into the country.
A year later, in October 2003, while Howett was serving his 12-year sentence in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight, detectives from the major crime department got a breakthrough.
They spent the best part of a week digging up the garden of Howett’s former home in Hoe Road as they searched for clues to Mr Palmer’s disappearance. In particular they were looking for a suitcase, a driving licence and a chunky gold necklace.
Neighbours watched as police moved into the small cul-de-sac and forensic teams began digging up the garden and removing items from the house, including carpets and interior doors.
As they officially launched a murder inquiry days later, senior detectives said that they believed Mr Palmer had been taken to the house in Hoe Road, dead or alive.
The inquiry also saw a team of officers fly to the Costa del Sol for six days as part of the investigation.
Back home, all taxi drivers working in Fareham, Eastleigh and Winchester districts at that time were approached by officers who have to this day never been able to trace the man who collected Mr Palmer and his associates that night.
A 51-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder and released on bail while files on the investigation, called Operation Arkholme, were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service. They later decided not to proceed with charges because of insufficient evidence.
In deciding how Mr Palmer died, the coroner has the option of recording a verdict of unlawful killing or an open verdict. He is not allowed to apportion blame.