DETECTIVES have today launched a murder inquiry after nine days of speculation about police activity at a Bishop's Waltham home.

Kevin John Palmer was 27 when he disappeared. He was last seen in the Hoe Road area of the village on March 12, 1999.

Police have now confirmed that they are searching the property in Hoe Road for clues to Mr Palmer's disappearance.

Yesterday a 50-year-old man from the Bishop's Waltham area was arrested on suspicion of murder.

He was quizzed by detectives from Hampshire Police's major crime investigation team based at Hulse Road in Southampton before being bailed pending further inquiries.

This morning at a press conference at Fareham police station, Det Insp Alison Scott, who is heading the inquiry codenamed Operation Arkholme, appealed for the public's help in piecing together the last known movements of Mr Palmer.

Speculation that officers were looking for human remains behind the semi-detached house in Hoe Road, Bishop's Waltham had grown ever since forensic experts and scenes-of- crime officers began their investigation. They want to trace people who may be able to recall details that will help establish what happened to Mr Palmer.

Over the last week, neighbours living in the small cul de sac have seen officers dig up sections of the garden and remove items from inside the house.

These have included several rolled-up carpets, three mattresses, boxes of files, three interior doors and five large brown police evidence bags.

Detectives have also been seen taking a metal detector and step ladder into the property.

Yesterday neighbours said officers were searching inside the house and "tapping" could be heard.

Drug smuggler John Howett owns the house as well as a second property on the Costa del Sol in Spain.

The man was jailed three years ago at Kingston Crown Court for his involvement in a multi-million drugs ring which saw £16m of cannabis smuggled into the country.

He is now serving a 12-year jail sentence in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.

He married his wife Tracey in prison last year and she now lives at the Hoe Road address, although she has been staying at a Portsmouth hotel ever since the police executed their search warrant.

Det Chief Insp Robert Duncan of the Western Major Crime Team last week said the search was being carried out as part of a long- running inquiry following a tip-off.

He said the site could be a "possible historical crime scene".