Thursday, 20 December 2012

Emotional bleed

My son has been missing for 16 years and you would think that after all this time we would be resolved in our emotions and have formed some sort of an assumption or conclusion regarding his disappearance.  The truth is that it does not work like that, at least not for all of the families of the missing that I have met over these several years.   There is no ‘closure’ and it is an open ended question and an internal emotional bleed.

Not a day goes by when Damien does not enter my mind.  It can be the middle or end of the day or in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning.  A song plays on the radio and I am in tears again with such sadness and incredulity he is actually gone from us.   

It comes when I am driving to and from work and find my mind mulling over the latest information or the latest publicity.  I feel despair in my inability to accomplish the one goal that I have set for myself and that is to find out what happened to my son.  We have an ongoing relationship with the police in his case and we are fortunate to have this.  Although this is relationship has been rocky over the years, we still have activity. Though I have had to push hard to keep up the focus and it is exhausting.   

I have also heard of many families who go for months and years with no designated police contact and no update of their missing loved ones' case.  They are silently grieving with what is known as an “ambiguous grief.”  There is no handbook and we all deal with this as best we can and in different ways. 

I feel this loss acutely and painfully every day;   more so at this time of the year when I wish that I had all my children safe and well and that a family Christmas was whole and without fracture.  I am grateful for what I have, but can never feel resolved or resigned to the loss of my child who just disappeared for no apparent reason.  Not knowing is the most difficult part.

Missing People is a Charity that deal with 100’s of families like mine and is available to help the families left behind to cope, and to advise those who have chosen to leave, or who may not know how to re-unite with their loved ones.  

By Valerie Nettles
Mother of missing Damien Nettles

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ten years and still searching

I still remember walking through the door at Missing People well over ten years ago. We had much smaller offices then and the Helpline was tucked in the far corner. Someone was poring over the diary, stewing over rotas, worrying about how to keep the lines open, which was hardly surprising with only a few staff and a handful of volunteers.

I felt at home, even in the interview. We focused on how to support missing people knowing that going missing is a cry for help; a desperate moment; a difficult choice and that being missing makes people very vulnerable. I felt I had experience to bring from 10 years at the central London Samaritans (where we had the luxury of 400 volunteers).

I'm not sure the carpets have changed here though we have more space now. Sadly some of the posters of missing people haven’t changed either. They’ve been reprinted but the photos, of course, are the same. This is the tragedy of missing people. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years of lost time, lost conversations, lost loves, lost experiences, families grown up, babies born, people died, birthdays come and gone. 

And so a call from a missing person is special. It’s a unique opportunity to reconnect, to reach out in a crisis, to pass a message home.

We still pore over rotas but 116 000 is open and is there round the clock. We’ve got a bigger team now and more volunteers; (more than halfway to the 400 I worked with previously).  I often drive past the office at night and see the lights glow, and I feel glad. I'd like to describe it as a beacon but that would be a tad grand... it looks like any ordinary office. A journalist once described this place as 'dusty offices above a supermarket on the Upper Richmond Road'. Cars and lorries stream past, sirens wail outside sometimes unsettling people who call.  But this is a warm place and an incredible space. The lights are on 24/7 and we're there to take a call, reply to an email, reply to a text message, send out a poster. And we don't need reminding what a difference this could make.

We’ve moved on too in many ways; we’re out and about in communities across the UK; we’ve had the privilege of bringing families together in Scotland, in Yorkshire, in the West Midlands and in London and we run Join The Search Days to engage the public with our work. We’ve very nearly achieved new legislation that will provide families who presume that their loved one has died with the ability to settle their affairs – to carry out their last wishes – and we’ve shared our expertise to support people with online documents.

The heart of this charity is in the same place. We’ve held true to the passion of our founders Mary Asprey and Janet Newman.  Were heavily involved in supporting families and there for missing people, children, young people and adults. The aim is to maintain our creativity and passion – to change as we need to, but to hold onto our heart.

But there are things we don't know – we may not know when we haven't helped.  ‘Missing’ is sometimes a very dark world. Families are tormented with dark thoughts and often dark realities. We may not have the words to help families talk through these things; to deal with the trauma.

A member of staff told me that she rang a health helpline recently, worried about her mum. She described how she felt when she picked up the phone - like a ball of worry and sadness. The person on the end of the line was warm, supportive, informative but didn't let the feelings out. It was helpful but she won't be calling again. I'd like us to be able to have and hold the most difficult conversation if that's what is wanted. I’d like us to be able to support young people in their language and at their pace. We respond quickly to texts but ‘real time’ is their world. I'd like us to be able to disseminate information about people who are missing across social media and beyond into the palms of hands at the touch of a button. I'd like us to mobilise people across the country who care about missing people and bring them under Missing People's wing. I'd like us to find more people more quickly, and when people are lost, I’d like them to know we are here.

I believe we are guardians of this charity; ensuring that we are a lifeline when someone disappears now and for the long run. I lost my child on a beach a few years ago. When I realised he was gone, my legs caved in below me. I almost lost my vision. I can barely talk about it even now and he was found in 10 minutes.

I've walked up and down the stairs to Missing People many times. Sometimes I'm two steps at a time, sometimes I take the lift, but I always find it hard to go home. I’ve been asked to lead us into this 20th anniversary year and I will always do my best to help this charity to be there for families and for people who are missing, because you never know when you might need us. From now on I'll be taking the stairs two at a time.

By Missing People’s newly appointed Chief Executive Jo Youle,
who leads the charity after ten years of service

Friday, 7 December 2012

You can never walk away….

The small hatchback pulled up and a woman I recognised from pictures beckoned me in. She was a mum, a very ordinary mum, nothing superstar about her, yet I knew her by her pictures. I stepped inside and we drove to a pub where we had a fairly average coffee and talked. There was so much for her to say and I tried desperately not to be overwhelmed as I listened to her cry for help from the charity I had come to lead. She began to unpick for me not just her story, but the truth behind the other picture I knew so well; the picture of her teenage son whose missing poster was blu-tacked to the wall by my desk in London.
In the three and half years at Missing People, that conversation has come back to me every day.  We as a group of volunteers and paid staff had a responsibility – a responsibility of care for those who ask us for help, to be there when they call, to listen, to seek to understand and remember their loved one and to do all that we can to join the search for them. There was one other picture that looked down at me, that of another teenager who had walked out of home, been seen on CCTV and not been seen again as yet.

My original motivation in joining Missing People was to keep young people at risk on the streets safe. It’s probably why the two teenagers stick in my head. I started my adult life taking in a young man who was living on the streets, who had runaway and was homeless. He and I are still friends nearly twenty years later, he is reunited with his family and has one of his own. In the last three years I have seen so many stories of courage and hope and I am very proud of the team that works tirelessly for the good of missing people and their families.

As I have grown older I have grown more ambitious to help more young people to find a refuge in a storm. The offer from the homeless charity Depaul came to me at a time when I had weathered my own storm of watching my mother, who I admired so much, die of cancer and I felt it was time to try again; to try an even bigger challenge. Depaul provides the nationwide network of emergency accommodation for young people who are in a homeless crisis from 16-25. So many of these homeless young people have been or still are ‘missing’.

I hope one day to be watching the TV and for the lead news item to be one of those teenagers returning home safe and sound, my heart aches for that to come true. But it may not. And it is that life in limbo, that cycle of hope and grief every family member of a missing loved one lives with and they can never walk away. They can only learn to live with that pain, in different ways for each of them.

I am walking but I will try my best not to walk away. I will always cherish my incredible extended family at Missing People and I hope to take all that I have learned, and who knows one day I might meet a young man in one of my projects whose face had looked down on me from my office wall at Missing People and maybe, just maybe, that would be the first step for them to be reunited with their loving families. I hope so, I really do.

By Missing People Chief Executive Martin Houghton-Brown,
as his tenure ends after three and a half amazing years running the charity Missing People

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

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.