In the UK, on average a person is reported missing every 90 seconds. The National Police Chief’s Council defines a missing person as “anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or at risk of harm to themselves or another”. However, determining a person is “missing” is not a simple as being unable to find them.
Anyone over the age of 18 has a legal right to go “missing”, meaning they have the right to withdraw contact and change whereabouts without letting anyone know. This is, of course, providing they are not wanted in any criminal cases or with any mental health concerns. It’s not illegal to go missing, however the missing person has a responsibility to alert the police of their safety and wellbeing to avoid unnecessary police work.
Why do people go missing?
The reasons for which people go missing a broad and varied. In some instances, a reason is clear – or at least becomes clear during investigation, however often it can be quite complex. There are many variables such as age, vulnerability or intention.
Missingpeople.org, a charity that raised awareness and provides support to those affected by missing persons cases, reports the following reasons for missing persons:
8 in 10 missing adults have diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues
3 in 10 missing adults happen after a relationship breakdown
1 in 10 missing adults suffer from dementia – this is often unintentional
1 in 50 adults purposefully went missing due to financial problems
1 in 50 missing adults do so to escape violence
These circumstances, of course, do not include those who go missing for more sinister reasons such as kidnapping or murder – we’ll look into those another time.
How long do people go missing for?
Missingpeople.org shares their findings on the statistics of missing persons. Their findings show:
80% of children are found within 24 hours
90% of children are found within 2 days
Only 2% of children will be missing for longer than a week (estimated 1,600 children
77% of adults are found within 24 hours
87% of adults are found within 2 days
4% of adults will be missing for longer than a week (estimated 3,800 adults)
When someone goes missing
Realising someone is missing can be traumatic. There are many questions to be asked and a great deal of uncertainty to face.
It’s a popular misconception that you must wait 24 hours before reporting someone missing. This is incorrect – a person can be reported missing at any time, either by contacting a local police station or calling 999 in an emergency.
Behaviour is the main indicator for most people filing missing reports. Not arriving at work or home (if out of character) can be reasons to file a report. Any concerns related to missing persons should be reported to police – or alternatively, seek out advice from missingpersons.org.
The police will use a variety of factors to determine whether the missing person is “at risk” and will approach the investigation accordingly. At risk factors include mental or physical illness, age (under 16 or over 65), in need of medication/care, recent behaviour and more.
Missing person’s cases are complex and complicated – they cannot be summarised in one sitting. Over the next few blogs, I will be looking into the different circumstances around missing people in a six-part series. Check back for case studies looking at vulnerable adults, child abductions, runaways, the impact on families, police statistics and real-life stories.