MURDER police have this morning descended on a disused Hampshire pub in their hunt for the body of a missing man.

The garden of the former Gordon Arms in Fareham has been cordoned off by police investigating the disappearance and suspected murder 15 years ago of Kevin John Palmer.

Specialist officers and equipment have been sent to the scene on Gordon Road as a search gets underway in the grounds.

Detectives from Hampshire Constabulary's Major Investigation Team (HMIT) are pursuing leads following a recent routine cold case review.

Mr Palmer went missing in Hampshire on March 12, 1999 after a night out with friends.

His disappearance happened shortly after arriving in the UK from Spain, where he was living at the time. Mr Palmer, who was aged in his 30s in 1999, has never been found.

A search for Mr Palmer's body and related evidence is underway in the garden of the former pub.

Police entered the property this morning and sealed off the grounds for examination.

Senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Paul Barton said: "Each unsolved murder across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is reviewed routinely by a dedicated team of experienced detectives in the force.

"A recent assessment of information received about the whereabouts of Kevin John Palmer prompted a line of enquiry, 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.

"The information is tangible enough to be examined in more detail at the scene - but it is in no way certain that any evidence will be found. Therefore, it's important for everyone involved with or affected by this case to be cautious with their expectations.

"Mr Palmer's immediate next-of-kin were informed by police in advance of this search beginning.

"I would like to thank the current owner of this property for his co-operation and understanding. No current or former residents of this address are under suspicion of any crimes."

Last known sighting & direct appeal to taxi driver witness Detective Superintendent Paul Barton said: "The last known sighting of Mr Palmer was at the Abshot Country Club on the evening of March 12, 1999 when we believe he caught a taxi with two other men back to an address in Bishops Waltham.

"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."

"I am also appealing for anyone who knew Kevin Palmer in 1999 to come forward and speak with the police.

"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."

Witnesses or anyone with information are asked to contact the Hampshire Major Investigation Team (HMIT) at Southampton Central police station by phoning 101 and quoting Operation Arkholme.

Mini-com users can phone 18001 101. If you wish to remain anonymous, please phone the independent Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton added: “Although murder remains a prominent line of enquiry, 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 enquiries.”