I read a very interesting piece on The Independent Newspaper’s website a few days ago which covered a topic close to the heart of every police officer …..
The article was entitled The missing: Each year, 275,000 Britons disappear, and relates to an investigation by the newspaper that reveals the equivalent of one person being reported missing in the UK every two minutes !!!!
And that got me thinking …… how many ‘missing’ people do we all deal with every single day. And of those reported to police, how many are actually ‘missing’ in a sense of the word that the great British public would accept as actually ‘missing’.
I suppose the first place we should start with regards to what is a ‘missing person’ is the formal ‘ACPO Definition’:
Anyone whose whereabouts is unknown, whatever the circumstances of disappearance. They will be considered missing until located and their well-being or otherwise established.
However, if we followed that rule of thumb to the enth degree, then we could easily argue that each and every one of us could at some point during each day be technically ‘missing’. Does your partner, your children, your parents, your friends, your work colleagues know exactly where you are every second of the day ? …. no …. well by ACPO standards then , you could be classed as missing so we need to be more realistic.
The general public would, I believe, consider a ‘missing person’ as someone who has
- Got lost, as in the case of a small child who’s wandered off whilst playing or become separated in a shop, or someone elderly or infirm who lacks / has lost the ability to locate and return themselves
- Deliberately made the intention to ‘run away’ or ‘leave’ for personal / financial or whatever needs and consciously decided they do not wish to be found
- Had something bad happen to them
(obviously the above is not an exhaustive list but you get the idea)
Joe Public would not, I feel, consider ‘missing’ an errant teenager who refuses to return home at 10pm because they are out with their mates, or, and sorry but much as it pangs me, I have to broach the subject …… kids from a care home who swan off every single day to meet up with their cohorts from another nearby care home just to wander around and generally cause as much disruption to their own care staff and the local constabulary who are then forced to waste many, many, person hours (can’t say man hours any more sorry), rounding them back up and taking them back to the said care homes, just so they can get washed, fed, pampered and then bugger off all over again the very next day !
But, for the moment, back to the article in The Independent which says that the number of people reported missing each year is ‘the equivalent of the entire population of Plymouth being spirited away’. The vast majority are of course found in a very short space of time, or return of their own volition (care home kids again !), but many don’t.
A much smaller, but not insignificant number disappear for decades, the estimated figures for the number of people in Britain who have been missing from family, friends and colleagues for over a year is at least 16,000 and could be as many as 20,000. So, in a world of CCTV on virtually every street corner, banks, mobile phone companies and shops tracking our every move (don’t for one minute think the sole purpose of that Tesco Clubcard is to save you money !!), where do all these people go ???
Thankfully, the number of long-term missing people who have come to harm is very low (which is good because when I quickly nipped onto the ACPO website to make sure I’d got the definition of a missing person correct, underneath in bold is the one line ‘if in doubt, think murder’. Which means out there, living below the radar, is a significant number of people, all of whom have friends and loved ones still worrying about them, in some case have been for many years. That’s where the charity Missing People tries to help, rebridging the gaps and trying to work as a link between both sides, re-establishing contact and bringing those people back together.
Back here at ground level I’ve done my own bit of research into missing people reports we’ve dealt with at Bigtown over the last twelve months. I found that thankfully we’ve have no ‘long term’ missing people on our division and that there is only one with a currently active report on our force area. Things are looking positive with that case however, as there has been active use of the persons bank card in another part of the country and subsequent CCTV checks have ID’d the person using the card themselves. So we know they are alive and well, it’s just a matter of catching up with them to formalise the matter. I do of course accept though that some police forces will have dozens of long term missing reports on their books.
We have a small number of missing reports of young children, all of whom have thankfully been scooped up in an amazingly short space of time, mainly due to a significant police response with Police Officers and Community Support Officers being drafted in from far and wide supported by dog units and helicopters and, as is normally the case, a large proportion of the concerned neighbourhood also coming out to help.
We then have an even smaller number (in single figures) of people who have gone missing then sadly taken their own lives which is distressing for all involved.
But by far the biggest proportion of missing person reports to police fall into one of two catergories:
The much smaller of the two boxes is filled with people who have gone walkabouts from the A&E Department of our local hospital. Generally they will have been taken their in the first place by police due to drink or drug overdose, self harm or mental ill health issues, or some other medical matter which is not in the slightest way in the remit of the police. They will have then been sat, unattended by hospital staff, who are, i will acknowledge, as strained and rushed off their feet as we are, for many, many hours, waiting to see a doctor, and will have either sobered up, come down off whatever they were on, or just got completely bored, got up, walked out and gone home. After another significant amount of time someone in A&E will realise they have lost a patient and then calls us resulting in a panic that a ‘high risk self harming suicidal person’ will do something silly if not found in five seconds flat. Reading the ‘finalise’ reports on this category of misper almost always resulted in the update ‘located at home’.
And then we get to the big box, the one full of multiple missing reports, the one that I’ve no doubt every front line police officer has wasted much of their working time (and let’s not forget because everyone else likes to remind us daily, taxpayers money) dealing with – yes, you got it, care home kids ! …. In the last twelve months, in the area covered by Bigtown Police Station, eleven children aged between 13 and 17 have between them generated over a thousand, yes OVER A THOUSAND missing person reports.
That’s over a thousand times in one year where that police officer that you needed to help you with the burglary at your house, the random assault you were subjected to whilst out with your friends last night or the theft of your gran’s purse just after she drew her pension this morning, will all have to wait, because your local authority, and the private companies they now contract to (for that read shrug their slopey shoulders and offload responsibility to), who are responsible for children in their care, have little or no ability to control their charges.
It’s worthy of note that local authorities spend a heck of a lot of your money (we’re back to taxpayers again) on housing these children, spending thousands of pounds a week with private (profit making) care companies to house and look after these kids. But when they go wandering, which is most days, after a quick drive round the block, the care staff commonly return to their house ‘just in case the little tearaways come back they have to be there’ and ring the good old police to go and find them. And we happily do this …. over and over …. every single day.
I have questioned with our senior officers why the police don’t charge the local authority or care company for doing their job for them, or even prosecute them for child neglect – after all, if you or I let our kids go awol for days on end, skip school and doing next to nothing to try and sort them out, I’d put money on the police and Social Services knocking on your door pretty quickly. Apparently though, i don’t ‘understand the bigger picture’ and ‘major progress is being made, I’ll see’.
In the meantime, I’ll have to shoot off. Two of our darling miscreants the early turn have spent half the day tracking down have just jumped out of the care staff’s car when it stopped at a red traffic light whilst they were being taken home from the nick, and they’ve done a runner again. Having questioned before why they don’t put the child locks on to stop the kids escaping, we were told by the staff they were ‘not allowed to lock them in, it’s against their rights and what if there was an accident, we couldn’t get them out’. My dears, if they are trapped in a car, the Fire Service won’t give two hoots about a car door, the roof will be coming off pronto, don’t worry about that !!