Wednesday, 29 June 2011
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.
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Last week I joined Peter Lawrence, Jacqui Hoyland and other families to give evidence at a Parliamentary Inquiry into missing people and the support for the families left behind when a loved one goes missing. Our belief is that no family should have to face the trauma alone of having a missing relative, and that legislation must be passed so that families have access to specialist support to help them deal with the unique legal, financial and emotional challenges they face when a loved one disappears.
My brother Richard Edwards went missing from London on February 1, 1995. He was 27 at the time. My family and I live in limbo. I describe it as a ‘suspended loss’. When a loved one dies you can find peace in a resolution. But I feel guilty if I grieve, as if I’m giving up on him. Mum and Dad still live in the house we grew up in – hoping one day Richard will come back to find them. It took me years to stop jumping up every time the doorbell went or the phone rang, hoping it was him.
Richard and I were extremely close growing up, even sharing a bedroom until I was 11 and he was 13. He was always looking out for me – the typical overprotective older brother. In May 1991, his band the Manic Street Preachers signed a record deal. Richard was thrilled. But over the next three years, while away on tour, he pushed his body to the limits. In 1994, I was relieved when he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital, but he discharged himself early, so he could go back on tour.
In February 1995, Richard was due to fly to New York for a gig but didn’t turn up for the flight. His manager reported him missing straight away, but the police didn’t take his disappearance too seriously at first. People miss flights all the time…but alarm bells went off in my head. Richard was Mr. Reliable. In those first hours I kept hoping Richard would walk through the door. But as the hours turned into days and weeks, a feeling of cold dread settled in my stomach. Yet even in my darkest moments, I never dreamed I’d still be wondering where he is today.
It was two weeks before the police found his car, abandoned in the Aust Service Station car park of the Old Severn Bridge. While conspiracies and theories rage – there have been alleged sightings of Richard in India and the Canary Islands – I concentrated my search in practical terms. I investigated every lead I could think of. I phoned the hospitals and coastguards, and wrote to monasteries in case he’d run away to a retreat.
After the initial desperate search, my family reluctantly tried to find a body. I contacted coroners around the Severn Estuary to see if any unidentified bodies found in or near it matched Richard’s. I spent days just driving around Cardiff, looking for any clues. I’d climb down to the riverbank and just stare at the water, wondering if my brother’s body was under there submerged in its sediment.
There were many articles in the press about skeletons and body parts that the reporters said belonged to my brother. And then there was the time the police approached us directly as a family to bring us news of the bodies without forensically reviewing the body parts beforehand.
Tomorrow’s final session of the inquiry is an opportunity to explore the systems currently used to cross match unidentified bodies and missing person reports, and I’ll be urging improvements in these processes to ensure as many matches are made as possible. Families of missing people should know that everything possible is being done to find their missing loved one. Whilst this might sound like a very simple objective, many families do not have this basic reassurance. At the moment, there are an estimated 1,000 unidentified bodies at any one time. This represents 1,000 anonymous dead - the un-named and the un-mourned - and the 1,000 families left in the dark about the fate of their loved one.
Cross matching reports of people who remain missing with unidentified bodies or body parts provides an important means of bringing an end to tragic cases. Successful cross matching can also assist criminal investigations, can allow civil procedures to be completed but most importantly of all can allow the deceased - the unknown victims - to finally have their identity restored to them.
I’m giving evidence on behalf of all those who have faced a painful struggle against bureaucracy following the disappearance of a loved one. I urge the Government to take some very simple steps to ease unnecessary heartache and confusion.
By Rachel Elias
Sister of Manic Street Preachers lyricist and designer Richard Edwards
Family Representative of Missing People
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.
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
- Families of missing people know everything possible is being done to find their missing loved one.
- Families affected by a disappearance have access to support.
- Families left behind are spared the pain of unnecessary financial and legal bureaucracy.
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Wednesday, 1 June 2011
- By midnight last Wednesday, @missingpeople had over 7,000 followers, up from 1,500 before the campaign was launched.
- There were nearly 150 tweets for each of the 48 appeals sent out during the day.
- Visits to the website were up over 600%.
- There was also significant press coverage, including stories on the homepages of Yahoo! UK and Sky News, and interviews with Kerry Needham, mother of missing Ben Needham, on ITV Lunchtime News, Radio 5 Live and ITV Yorkshire.
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.
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.