Wednesday, 29 June 2011
Ann Coffey MP: How the Government can Make a Difference
Listening to the stories of devastated families of missing people is a very sobering experience. You can literally feel the pain in their voices.
They told us from the heart what families left behind need the most to help them at such a traumatic time – in terms of emotional, practical and legal support. We must listen closely to them and reflect their views in our inquiry recommendations.
It has been a privilege over the last couple of weeks to chair this inquiry and it has made me more determined than ever to fight for help to make life more bearable for families.
During our four sessions we also received very detailed evidence from the agencies involved.
What emerged strongly from the testimonies from parents, siblings and partners was the strong need for emotional support and counselling and how important it is to have the same standards throughout the country. That is why I hope that one of our recommendations will be for all families whose loved one goes missing to be “signposted” or put in touch with organisations that can provide both practical help and emotional support.
I would also like to see a recommendation that each family will be assigned a named police officer as a single point of contact. One of the mums, Nicki Durbin, told us of her horror when she heard a body had been found nearby and she could not get past various police answer phones to check if it was her missing son Luke. If she had had a named officer she would have been able to contact him or her direct for help and support.
We also want legal processes that enable families to manage their affairs easier, including a Presumption of Death Bill. Peter Lawrence, the father of missing York chef Claudia Lawrence, also spoke eloquently about the need for a guardianship mechanism, which would allow family members to manage the mortgage and bank accounts of a missing person.
We must also have improvements to the system of matching missing people reports to unidentified bodies. We need to ensure as many matches as possible take place. There are currently about 1,000 unidentified bodies, which means a thousand families left in limbo, not knowing if their loved one is dead or alive.
It wasn’t just me who was moved by the families’ stories. James Brokenshire, the Home Office minister, said he was acutely aware of their pain and Nick Gargan, the Chief Executive of the NPIA Missing Persons Bureau, said: “There’s not a police officer in the country who wouldn’t change how they respond to missing person reports were they to listen to the testimony of the three mothers we just listened to.”
Let’s hope that when we put in our recommendations to the Government in the summer that they will listen to the voices and wishes of the parents and the professionals, which will be reflected through our report. None of our recommendations will be particularly costly but if implemented would make all the difference in the world to the families who suffer what we all fear the most – someone we love going missing.
By Ann Coffey MP
To show your support for the families of missing people, please leave a message on Missing People’s Wall of Reminders at www.missingpeople.org.uk/wallofreminders.
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.