DETECTIVES investigating the suspected murder of a man who disappeared almost 15 years ago have begun searching the garden of a disused pub.

Kevin John Palmer, who has family in Darlington, has not been seen since March 1999.

He went missing after a night out in Hampshire with friends, shortly after returning to the UK from Spain, where he was living at the time.

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Officers from Hampshire Police sealed off the grounds of the former Gordon Arms Pub, in Fareham, near Portsmouth, on Tuesday (February 4) morning.

Mr Palmer’s body has never been found and officers expect the painstaking search of the property to take at least 48 hours.

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, from the force’s major investigation team, said officers were pursuing leads following a recent cold case review.

Mr Palmer, who was in his 30s at the time of his disappearance, had settled in Spain with his wife and daughter.

The Northern Echo understands his brother lives in Darlington.

Officers said his next of kin were being kept abreast of developments in the investigation.

Det Supt Barton said: “A recent assessment of information received about the whereabouts of Mr Palmer prompted a line of inquiry, which has taken us to this address in Fareham.

“The opinion of our detectives is that this information justifies a search for human remains within the garden of the former Gordon Arms pub.”

The last known sighting of Mr Palmer was at a country club in Fareham on the evening of March 12, 1999.

He is believed to have taken a taxi with two men and become involved in an argument with them on route, resulting in him being left behind.

Efforts to trace the taxi driver are ongoing.

A man was arrested on suspicion of murder in 2003, with a second man interviewed in Spain, but no charges have ever been brought.

An inquest in 2009 recorded an open verdict, with coroner Graham Short concluding that he may have been either buried or dumped at sea.

Det Supt Barton appealed to anyone who knew Mr Palmer in 1999 to contact Hampshire Police.

He said: “Even after 15 years, the smallest piece of detail could prove essential in establishing a significant lead.

“Although murder remains a prominent line of inquiry, detectives must keep an open mind about what happened to Mr Palmer, because a range of information has been received since 1999.”