Around 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit www.missingpeople.org.uk.

Call or txt the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Jo Youle: "How letting down a friend taught me something important"

Missing People CEO recounts a sad experience to learn from.


Sadly, a very close friend’s mum died recently. I was pleased to be able to sort out work and childcare so that I could be at the funeral to support her. I Googled the cemetery address, and also did a ‘belt and braces’ check with my friend via text the week before to make sure I’d found the right place. She replied that it was the only crematorium in town.

On the day, I set off and arrived well over an hour early. I checked with a guy working in the graveyard that I was in the right place, and he confirmed that I was at the Basingstoke cemetery. In the distance, I saw a whole load of folk leaving after the 12 noon funeral service; all dressed in black, slow and sombre. I had that slight sense of dread that that would be us lot in an hour or so. I sat in the car and felt kind of pleased with the extra time I had.

Later, though still early, I asked one headstone engraver where the services take place, and he pointed me to the small church in the middle. I thought it was nice that it wasn't in the usual 1960’s dreary civic buildings. I hung around outside the church and noticed the door was locked - there was no one around. It was a bit eerie, almost too deserted, and I waited, reading headstones, feeling thankful to be alive as you do in these places.

I started to feel uneasy about 1pm, when the service was due to start in 15 minutes. No one had arrived. I couldn’t ring my friend, since she’d be in the funeral car.  Then, the man I’d spoken to when I first arrived came over to me and asked “anything I can help with?” I told him what I was waiting for. He then said “oh, you want the crematorium ‘love’, 10 miles from here, this is the cemetery”.  

I did a slow motion fall apart; I couldn’t get any words out whilst he tried to give me directions to where I needed to go, 10 miles away, with no chance of getting there. Game over. I cried. Gutted that I wouldn’t be there for my friend. Embarrassed with myself. I sort of knew something wasn’t right, and I hadn’t listened to my instinct. I’d simply gotten the wrong ‘idea’ in my head from a couple of weeks before, and everything I did, Googled, and checked from that moment forward merely confirmed that I was in the right place. A bad case of confirmation bias.

It’s a pervasive thing, confirmation bias. And all the more annoying since I’d been ‘on the watch’ for it after receiving warning on a course I'd attended a few years ago for newbie CEO’s.  There they’d told of huge companies slowly leading themselves to disaster by distorted realities, even when all the data and information suggested a different picture. Think of the now stereotypical examples: Xerox, Kodak, Blackberry.

We create worlds for ourselves which confirm our own thinking and beliefs. Our own personalised echo chambers. We select newsfeeds, watch the ‘bits’ we like on 'catch up' TV, select ‘our sorts of people’ to follow, whilst Facebook selects things for us - algo-rhythmed around our web browsing. And as for Twitter, it is so bespoke that I’m sure most people could be psychologically profiled purely on the people they choose to follow. And then we prune and edit further. I’ve done it myself - unfollowed people who insist on posting articles from newspapers I wouldn’t even wrap my chips in.
 
Basingstoke Cemetery: "No Exit"
 
Setting off with the wrong hypotheses can have the most serious consequences. Listeners of Serial and Undisclosed podcasts, and watchers of Making A Murderer will have learned about injustice when the (wrong hypotheses) rules evidence 'in' when it supports the theory, and 'out' when it doesn’t. It can be devastatingly life changing.

I was thankful to join my friend at the wake after the funeral I missed. And beyond my embarrassment at becoming a ‘story’ on a day when I just wanted to be there, it wasn’t held against me and I was greeted only with hugs and a rather large glass of wine. I’m not sure why I got it so wrong. Emotion. Over confidence. Being on my own. A tad smug as someone who travels all over (the UK!) – pride and fall and all that.  
 
I’ll never mix up 'cemetery' and 'crematorium' again; that much I know.  
 
I’ll go back to trusting instinct a little more, and Sat Nav a little less.
 
And I’ll always be sorry I wasn’t there for my friend.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Oxford abduction prompts widespread concern

Thanks to Geoff Newiss, CEO, Action Against Abduction for writing this post.



Last week, news of the abduction and rape of a teenage girl in Oxford made national headlines. The 14 year-old, walking to school, was forced into a car on a busy street in the Summertown area of the city. She was raped by two men, and found over three hours later approximately one mile away asking for help. 

Every day there are reports of child abductions by a stranger in the UK. The vast majority are attempted abductions involving a would-be offender trying to lure a child into a car or a secluded area. Some require the victim to physically struggle to get away. Of those cases that do result in a child been taken, most last a matter of minutes rather than hours, and involve inappropriate touching or indecent exposure. This is what makes the abduction in Oxford so concerning; the severity of the sexual assault that the victim and her family will have to struggle to come to terms with. 

Yet the impact of these events is felt across whole communities and, indeed, across the whole country. Parents who have just taken that enormous step to let their children start walking to school on their own face a wall of doubt. If it can happen in upmarket Oxford, surely it can happen anywhere?

Re-assuring parents that such terrible offences are very rare is an unenviable task at times like these. What psychologists call the availability heuristic (the minds ability to quickly grasp at high profile examples as evidence of frequent occurrence) has just been turbo-charged. It will take time for fears to calm and a ‘normal’ sense of risk to return.

However, there is one step that must be taken urgently. And that is to once-and-for-all find an alternative to ‘Stranger Danger’ – an approach to child safety that comes from the 1970s and just doesn’t work. Yes some abductions will be committed by a stranger, but getting children to distinguish between strangers and non-strangers is a futile place to start when trying to teach them how to stay safe. There is plenty of evidence – summarised in our Beyond Stranger Danger report – that children warned to stay away from strangers think that the message only really applies to mean and nasty looking people. And, of course, some of the most recent, tragic and high profile abductions of children in the UK have been committed by people known to them.

Action Against Abduction is in the process of developing a brand new approach. We’re aiming to pilot new teaching resources early in 2017 so that we can make them widely available later next year. More information is available online. Please help us to achieve this by joining our Safe, Not Scared campaign.


Monday, 12 September 2016

Volunteering through work for Missing People

Lisa West is Research & Insight Manager at Primesight, one of the biggest outdoor advertising companies in the UK and a key partner of the charity. She joined the Missing People Communications team for a day's volunteering a few weeks ago to share her skills and insight with the team.

"I had the wonderful opportunity of joining the Missing People marketing team for a day’s volunteering work and through this experience gathered lots of insight into not only how the charity help the families of missing people but also how it offers a fantastic support service for those that go missing. So much of this charity is reliant on volunteers, so it was great to hear that the opportunity for remote work is growing across the organisation. (Especially for those busy in their own full time/part time jobs).

Through my induction, I was exposed to the new approach of conducting return home interviews to help understand the root of the problem of why children go missing. This is massively helping identify cause and effect and as a result ensuring the children are less likely to go missing again moving forward. By integrating solutions of prevention instead of cure, it was great to see the positive impact from this.

At the beginning of my volunteering day, I was able to dedicate time into understanding more about the charity and the recent introduction of the Runaway Helpline, which has had stronger resonance with the younger age group. As a marketer, we have all seen a change in the way we communicate and updated our marketing strategies to adapt to this. As such, it was encouraging to hear there has been a huge increase in the amount of people contacting the charity through text messaging and the ability for them to respond to this quickly and effectively through this channel.

Social media is also a key part of their communications process. Later on in the day, through conducting analysis of their Facebook channel, I was able to help determine what posts have been performing well over the last quarter and ways in which the charity could increase traction with certain demographic profiles. This analysis could then help feed into their social media strategy moving forward.

Overall, I feel privileged to have dedicated my marketing skills to this charity and would certainly recommend others to do the same for such a worthy cause. Whether your skills lie in marketing, sales, customer service or other areas, there is always something we can do to help. Please contact Aimee Castle for more details. (aimee.castle@missingpeople.org.uk)"


Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Returning Missing Adults – the chance to make a difference

This blog was written by our Research Manager Lucy Holmes. If you would like to know more about this work, please contact policyandresearch@missingpeople.org.uk or see our website for more information and statistics.

When a small child goes missing - whether they’ve wandered out of sight in a supermarket or got lost on a crowded beach, or something more sinister - the natural reaction is to panic. When adults go missing, it’s easier to assume that they can take care of themselves, or that they’ve made a choice to go missing. For their loved ones who miss them, however, an adult disappearance can be equally terrifying.



As many as 80% of missing adults are thought to have a mental health problem and, for some, this will be the cause of their disappearance. Others go missing because of dementia, others because of difficult relationships at home, and still more because their personal circumstances make it hard to stay in contact with loved ones.

Most adults return or are found quickly. Not all – tragically a small number of adults die whilst missing – but most come back safe. Missing People believes that what happens to a missing adult when they return is just as important as when they left. Whatever the reason they went, it’s likely that the original problem will return with them, and they may face new problems resulting from their absence. For some returned adults, these problems cause them to go missing repeatedly. One in five missing adult incidents is a repeat incident.

In our Manifesto for Missing People, we are calling for all returning adults to be offered a Return Interview. Once the police have done a ‘safe and well’ check and gathered the information they need, the returning adult should then be offered the chance to talk with an independent person. They should have the chance to talk freely about why they went, what happened while they were gone, how they feel about being found or returning, and what support they will need from then on. Whether it’s a person with dementia who is no longer able to find their way when out alone, or an adult who went missing in mental health crisis, a Return Interview would provide a gateway to enhanced support.

When an adult returns from being missing, those people and organisations who want to help them have a very important opportunity - the opportunity to:
      Reconnect – get them back in contact with people who can help
      Reassure – make sure they know they aren’t in trouble
      Reassess – check whether their support needs have increased
      Re/refer – make sure they are known to appropriate services
      Reduce repeats – resolve the problems that cause them to go missing

Missing People is working hard to ensure that this opportunity is not missed:
1)    We are trialling a brand new Aftercare service in Wales, funded by Big Lottery Wales, which supports returned adults, children and their families.
2)    In partnership with Professor Hester Parr of the Geographies of Missing People research project, we recently organised events in London and Cardiff to bring together professionals who can influence change. You can read about these events, and see a short film about returning, at www.missingpeople.org.uk/returningadultsevent
3)    We have jointly written a briefing paper about returning adults and we will continue to work with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, which hopes to conduct an Inquiry about vulnerable missing adults in the coming months.
4)    We hope to pilot and evaluate Return Interviews for adults in the near future and are currently exploring the idea with potential partners.

Effective support for adults when they return would make sure that every reconnection is safe, that fewer people would need to go missing a second time, and that fewer families face the pain of a missing loved one.

Monday, 25 July 2016

If you were hooked on ‘Making a Murderer’ there’s a new series you must watch about a boy who has been missing for 20 years. Here’s why.




An age-progressed image of Damien



Damien before he went missing in 1996


By Val Nettles, mum of missing Damien

Where do I start?  My son Damien has been missing for 19 years.  We have had an upward battle throughout these years to keep his case active.  Our family struggled with the initial police view that Damien went off on his own for some unknown reason.  We never felt this was the case, even when they said “He’s gone off for a funny five minutes Mrs. Nettles, be back by tea-time”.  They didn’t think it was a problem, despite it being completely out of character.

Since then, for 19 years we have pushed, poked and prodded the police and the local population for action or answers.  We got little action but a lot of answers and the difficulty has been determining what was fact and what was fiction.

Fast forward to almost 20 years and he still isn’t home for tea.

The most important time in the case of a missing person is the first 48 hours.  It’s a fact.

Despite a major search in 2011 along with eight arrests on suspicion of murder, 14 years after he went missing, the case remained a missing person case.  It is a very odd place to be.  His case had become both a suspected murder, AND a missing person case.  Confusing.

The case was wound down in 2014 and though it is not closed, it is also not active.

Enter the BBC in 2015.  I was contacted last summer with the prospect of having Damien featured on in a new cutting edge program on the soon to be newly re-formatted BBC Three.  It was explained as an investigative journalism film. I felt I had nothing to lose.  So I entered into the world of the investigative journalistic team and put all my trust and faith in them.   I gave every waking minute, it seemed, to the team re-counting, re-hashing all the information.  They made me dig deep into my memory.  I thought I had it all right there in my head, but they pushed a little harder and sometimes I remembered something long forgotten in the murky mist of memory.  They were tough but at every turn, their concern was for us and Damien.  No promises were made to solve this puzzling case, but they hoped to dispel some of the gossip and theories surrounding it.  The Isle of Wight is a small place and everyone knows each other.  It is not the sort of place things like this happen. 

Many of Damien’s friends participated in the film and it was lovely to see them all.  It was hard too, since they had lives and families and futures but Damien does not.  His friend Alex wrote a particularly poignant song for Damien.  It is a song about their growing up.  One event in particular I recall vividly that he includes in the song and it is the day they crashed Alex’s mother’s car.  They were about 13 years old and decided to sit in the Volvo wagon parked outside the house on a hill.  Somehow, the car with the two boys in the front seat started to roll down the hill and I can see to this day Damien pull his long lanky leg quickly back into the car before he would have trapped it between the door and a lamppost.  The car continued with the boys inside to roll down the steep road.  Slowly, fortunately it rolled into a neighbour’s back garden.  Not fortunate for the neighbour’s shed, but the boys were unhurt. 

These memories are like photos or movies in my mind are all I have and I cling to them.  Like many other mothers of missing children, I mourn for my son while not understanding why and having no marker, no body, no finality.  I have been fully supported by the charity Missing People over the years who continue to care about my family and Damien.  Just knowing they are there when I need a friend is reassuring. 

To give you an idea of what the last 20 years have been like, here is an example of just one day in my life while Damien has been missing:

I began my day, waking at 5 a.m. again and thinking about Damien.  He was in my mind as I tossed and turned throughout the night.  I don’t sleep well anymore.  I ask myself the same old question “How did this happen?  Where could he be?  Did he die?  Did he cry for us? Was he afraid and lonely?  I think of all the worst possible scenario’s because I know nothing.  That is the hardest part “knowing nothing”.  I am always restless these days.  Tired.  So I get up, make coffee and begin my day.  I work out at the gym most days early.  I like that this time of the day, before other practical things need to be dealt with.  This is my time.  Time to think about Damien and time to answer emails or any information regarding the case. 

I received an email from another mother of a missing boy.  She needed to talk to someone who would understand.  She was having problems with her daughter.  She wss feeling worn down and has lost her direction.  She has lost herself in the darkness that has become her normalcy. 

I replied to her at length, drawing from my own experience and the perspective that I have come to recognise as my life.  I can hardly remember what it was like before.  I can only seem to recollect the loss that has been my life for so long.  I don’t recognize myself anymore.  I breathe; I get up every day.  I watch myself in the mirror and wonder why I am still functioning, such as it is?  I breathe; I have no choice.  Brush teeth, dry hair, put on makeup, get dressed.  I throw myself together everyday; I am passable in appearance.  I try to make some effort, but then I catch my face in the mirror and I ask myself “for what.”  “Why are you still functioning, your son is out there somewhere, probably in a shallow grave, here you are getting ready for work, but your son is out there somewhere, what are you doing?”  I look away.  I see all around me the preparations that I need to make to face the day and again, I wonder, “how do I keep going?”   Life is routine, day in, day out.  I work, my mind wonders constantly.  Perhaps I could have had a career, instead of this one?  My heart is back in on the Island where Damien disappeared.  My mind is there too; I flit from present to past.  What is this life?  I am buried too under the thoughts, fears, and memories.   The email from that mother reminded me who I am and what my life is about.  It brought me back to myself.  THAT is who I am.  I am the mother of a missing child. This daily routine is a gossamer veil.  No substance, it just faintly hides what lies beneath.  It covers my life as I breathe.  I go through the motions every day.  No one can see past the veil.  I have become adept living with it. 

‘Unsolved’ is available to download on BBC Iplayer.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041fkdp
Buy ‘Someone Knows – A Song for Damien’ by Alex Roberts here. 100% of the proceeds will go to Missing People.

Unsolved: The Boy Who Disappeared

An age-progressed image of Damien
Damien before he went missing in 1996

If you were hooked on ‘Making a Murderer’ there’s a new series you must watch about a boy who has been missing for 20 years. Here’s why.

By Val Nettles, mum of missing Damien


Where do I start?  My son Damien has been missing for 19 years.  We have had an upward battle throughout these years to keep his case active.  Our family struggled with the initial police view that Damien went off on his own for some unknown reason.  We never felt this was the case, even when they said “He’s gone off for a funny five minutes Mrs. Nettles, be back by tea-time”.  They didn’t think it was a problem, despite it being completely out of character.

Since then, for 19 years we have pushed, poked and prodded the police and the local population for action or answers.  We got little action but a lot of answers and the difficulty has been determining what was fact and what was fiction.

Fast forward to almost 20 years and he still isn’t home for tea.

The most important time in the case of a missing person is the first 48 hours.  It’s a fact.

Despite a major search in 2011 along with eight arrests on suspicion of murder, 14 years after he went missing, the case remained a missing person case.  It is a very odd place to be.  His case had become both a suspected murder, AND a missing person case.  Confusing.

The case was wound down in 2014 and though it is not closed, it is also not active.

Enter the BBC in 2015.  I was contacted last summer with the prospect of having Damien featured on in a new cutting edge program on the soon to be newly re-formatted BBC Three.  It was explained as an investigative journalism film. I felt I had nothing to lose.  So I entered into the world of the investigative journalistic team and put all my trust and faith in them.   I gave every waking minute, it seemed, to the team re-counting, re-hashing all the information.  They made me dig deep into my memory.  I thought I had it all right there in my head, but they pushed a little harder and sometimes I remembered something long forgotten in the murky mist of memory.  They were tough but at every turn, their concern was for us and Damien.  No promises were made to solve this puzzling case, but they hoped to dispel some of the gossip and theories surrounding it.  The Isle of Wight is a small place and everyone knows each other.  It is not the sort of place things like this happen. 

Many of Damien’s friends participated in the film and it was lovely to see them all.  It was hard too, since they had lives and families and futures but Damien does not.  His friend Alex wrote a particularly poignant song for Damien.  It is a song about their growing up.  One event in particular I recall vividly that he includes in the song and it is the day they crashed Alex’s mother’s car.  They were about 13 years old and decided to sit in the Volvo wagon parked outside the house on a hill.  Somehow, the car with the two boys in the front seat started to roll down the hill and I can see to this day Damien pull his long lanky leg quickly back into the car before he would have trapped it between the door and a lamppost.  The car continued with the boys inside to roll down the steep road.  Slowly, fortunately it rolled into a neighbour’s back garden.  Not fortunate for the neighbour’s shed, but the boys were unhurt. 

These memories are like photos or movies in my mind are all I have and I cling to them.  Like many other mothers of missing children, I mourn for my son while not understanding why and having no marker, no body, no finality.  I have been fully supported by the charity Missing People over the years who continue to care about my family and Damien.  Just knowing they are there when I need a friend is reassuring. 

To give you an idea of what the last 20 years have been like, here is an example of just one day in my life while Damien has been missing:

I began my day, waking at 5 a.m. again and thinking about Damien.  He was in my mind as I tossed and turned throughout the night.  I don’t sleep well anymore.  I ask myself the same old question “How did this happen?  Where could he be?  Did he die?  Did he cry for us? Was he afraid and lonely?  I think of all the worst possible scenario’s because I know nothing.  That is the hardest part “knowing nothing”.  I am always restless these days.  Tired.  So I get up, make coffee and begin my day.  I work out at the gym most days early.  I like that this time of the day, before other practical things need to be dealt with.  This is my time.  Time to think about Damien and time to answer emails or any information regarding the case. 

I received an email from another mother of a missing boy.  She needed to talk to someone who would understand.  She was having problems with her daughter.  She wss feeling worn down and has lost her direction.  She has lost herself in the darkness that has become her normalcy. 

I replied to her at length, drawing from my own experience and the perspective that I have come to recognise as my life.  I can hardly remember what it was like before.  I can only seem to recollect the loss that has been my life for so long.  I don’t recognize myself anymore.  I breathe; I get up every day.  I watch myself in the mirror and wonder why I am still functioning, such as it is?  I breathe; I have no choice.  Brush teeth, dry hair, put on makeup, get dressed.  I throw myself together everyday; I am passable in appearance.  I try to make some effort, but then I catch my face in the mirror and I ask myself “for what.”  “Why are you still functioning, your son is out there somewhere, probably in a shallow grave, here you are getting ready for work, but your son is out there somewhere, what are you doing?”  I look away.  I see all around me the preparations that I need to make to face the day and again, I wonder, “how do I keep going?”   Life is routine, day in, day out.  I work, my mind wonders constantly.  Perhaps I could have had a career, instead of this one?  My heart is back in on the Island where Damien disappeared.  My mind is there too; I flit from present to past.  What is this life?  I am buried too under the thoughts, fears, and memories.   The email from that mother reminded me who I am and what my life is about.  It brought me back to myself.  THAT is who I am.  I am the mother of a missing child. This daily routine is a gossamer veil.  No substance, it just faintly hides what lies beneath.  It covers my life as I breathe.  I go through the motions every day.  No one can see past the veil.  I have become adept living with it. 

‘Unsolved’ is available to download on BBC Iplayer.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041fkdp
Buy ‘Someone Knows – A Song for Damien’ by Alex Roberts here. 100% of the proceeds will go to Missing People.

Friday, 8 July 2016

What does Brexit mean for Missing People?

This post comes from Missing People's Policy Manager Anna Collins.

With the result of the UK referendum now clear after months of campaigning what it means for the future remains uncertain.

The referendum has shown a division amongst the UK’s population about how we’d like to operate in the world. At Missing People we’ve been considering what the ‘leave’ vote means for missing people and their families

Our services
Our services are funded from a range of sources so whilst the economic picture is uncertain, our funding sources are deliberately diverse to ensure we’re not reliant upon one source of income. We’ll be keeping an eye on economic developments to ensure that we can continue to provide a lifeline to missing people and their families day in and day out.

We work in close collaboration with European partners and are a member of Missing Children Europe, the European Federation for Missing Children. The leave vote won’t affect this membership. Our helpline number 116 000 came from an EU directive in 2007 won’t be affected either.

Our policy and campaigns work
With political uncertainty following the leave vote we’re reflecting on our campaigns and prioritising activities where we can have most influence. The Government’s main focus will be dealing with negotiations to withdraw from the European Union and deciding which pieces of legislation to repeal or amend. It’s not certain if there’ll be a general election in the short term. We’ll be monitoring the situation to identify opportunities to champion our campaigns with our parliamentary supporters many of you have helped us to develop relationships with, and with key agencies outside Parliament such as police and local authorities

What happens next?
The Conservatives are currently deciding who their leader and therefore the next Prime Minister will be. It will then be up to them to decide when to trigger article 50, which starts the process for leaving the European Union and for negotiations to take place.

In the meantime, our work will continue to support and campaign for missing people and their families and we’ll still need your help to make that happen.

Missing People produces a quarterly newsletter, Missing News, which collates a comprehensive picture of the latest developments in policy, practice and research relating to missing. To sign up to receive these updates, please email policyandresearch@missingpeople.org.uk.