David Spencer/Patrick Warren – Chelmsley Wood – 1996

December 2011 - Chelmsley Wood families of David Spencer and Patrick Warren tell of 15-year anguish

IT WAS 15 years ago today that two Midland schoolboys left their homes to visit a relative nearby.

It was a journey that should have taken minutes – but they never arrived.

Today, on the anniversary of Patrick Warren and David Spencer’s disappearance from their Chelmsley Wood homes, Patrick’s older brother Derek has spoken to the Birmingham Mail of his family’s decade and a half of anguish.

Patrick, then aged 11, and David, who was 13, had told their mums they were going out to visit one of Patrick’s brothers, who lived nearby, on Boxing Day 1996. It was the last their families ever saw or heard from them.

Derek was one of the first people to go out looking for the young boys when they failed to arrive at their other brother’s home.

Today the 36-year-old still has no idea what happened to his brother and no-one has ever faced charges for the boys’ disappearance.

Speaking to the Birmingham Mail with his partner, Ellie Roe, who is pregnant with their sixth child, Derek said: “Everyone expects to be happy on Christmas Day. I think: what’s there really to look forward to? My brother went missing on Boxing Day.

“I really don’t like Christmas.”

Ellie, aged 31, described Patrick’s disappearance as a “family horror story” that makes her panic when her own children go out.

“Memories and questions,” she said, “that’s all you’re left with.”

Five years ago, on the tenth anniversary of Patrick and David’s disappearance, the families were given fresh hope that they might find answers about what happened.

West Midlands Police reopened the case, known as Operation Stenley, and officers interviewed convicted murderer Brian Field, now aged 76.

Field was jailed for life in 2001 for the kidnap, rape and murder of Surrey schoolboy Roy Tutill in 1968.

Field was living near the boys’ homes in Rowood Drive, Solihull, working as a gardener and odd-job man, when they went missing.

Officers dug up a field nearby in Old Damson Lane in a bid to find clues.

But they abandoned their search weeks later after finding nothing of significance.

Field denied any involvement in the boys’ disappearance and police said he was just one line of enquiry in their investigation.

Derek said he felt “completely” let down by the police investigation into his brother’s case.

He said: “I don’t think they took it seriously enough.

“It’s all too late now, isn’t it?”

West Midlands Police said on Boxing Day afternoon in 1996 the boys were seen by an officer with a group of their friends playing on Meriden Lake, which was frozen. They said the youngsters were told to go home and warned of the dangers of playing on the ice. It was after returning home that the pair each told their parents of their plans to visit one of Patrick’s brothers.

The last known sighting of the boys was at a Shell petrol station in Chelmsley Wood just after midnight, where an attendant gave them a packet of biscuits.

They were reported missing first thing on the morning of December 27, 1996. Patrick’s red Apollo bicycle, a prized Christmas gift, was found later at the back of the petrol station, in an area where commercial bins were stored.

Nationwide appeals for information were made.

Their faces were featured on milk cartons in 1997 in a ground-breaking campaign and they appeared on BBC’s Crimewatch programme in 2006. But no trace of them has ever been found.

In addition to Field being questioned five years ago, a 37-year-old man was arrested over their disappearance in 2003. But he was later released on police bail.

Detective Sergeant Rich Clarke from the West Midlands Police told the Mail: “Despite extensive inquiries and numerous appeals, David Spencer and Patrick Warren have never been found.

“The case has been reviewed several times and detectives remain ready to re-investigate should new information come to light.

“We remain committed to bringing closure for the families of David and Patrick, whose lives have been irrevocable changed by their lengthy disappearance.”

Anyone with new information is asked to call Detective Sergeant Rich Clarke in Force CID on 101.