Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Megan Sullivan's Charity Skydive

Some time later on this year, Megan Sullivan will be launching herself out of an aeroplane for charity. Quite a terrifying thing to be gearing up for- especially if like Megan, you are “not great with heights”. For this brave girl though, skydiving for Missing People is nowhere near the scariest thing she’s had to contend with in the last 6 months.

On 9th December last year, she and her family were faced with the fact that Cornelius Sullivan, Megan’s father, had gone missing. Suffering from both Seasonal Affective Disorder and Manic Depression for over 20 years, Con often took long drives as a coping mechanism for his illnesses, always phoning home after a few hours and returning to his understanding wife Kirsty and daughters Grace, Kitty and Megan herself. Last December, he took himself for one of these drives after “hitting rock bottom”. This time, however, there was no reassuring phone call- Con had left his mobile at home, and the family had the terrible experience of having a loved one filed as a missing person with the police.

The forces immediately took steps to try and find the missing man, but the family initially opted not to ‘go public’ with the case, hoping that the matter would resolve itself quickly. For a whole week, Kirsty and Megan went to work as usual (Kirsty works as a receptionist at a local gym, as does Megan when she isn’t studying at Loughborough University). Only their closest relatives knew of Con’s disappearance, and Megan kept the family’s worries from even her most trusted friends.

As the days rolled on, the family realized that they would not be able to find Con without asking for help from the public, so they launched an appeal through Missing People, who offered the Sullivan family practical help with posters and campaigning as soon as they were asked. Megan took charge of their Social Media campaign on twitter and facebook, doing everything she could to get the message out and keep herself busy. She even got members of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ retweeting her appeals. Doing this, she tells me, helped her to stay positive and hopeful through the weeks that her father was missing.
In the middle of the night on 23rd December, Megan ran down the stairs of her home to pick up the ringing phone; an off-duty policeman had found Cornelius close to a police station in Norfolk and after speaking to his daughter and his wife, he drove himself home that same night. Just two days before this, Megan’s grandparents had been to Norfolk to search for the missing man, who had been identified as being in the area after a card payment of his was tracked. Having searched the area to no avail, the family had become increasingly worried, although Megan explains that they were always certain that Con would eventually return; “He just needed to hear mum’s voice”.
Her experiences with Missing People made her determined to do something in return for the support the charity gave her family; she wanted to do something “big”, that would grab people’s attention and make them reach to their wallets for the cause- and it’s working!
At the time of writing, Megan has already raised £811, well over her initial goal of £550, and the donations are still coming in. She has rallied her friends and relatives for donations, and has been active in both Chigwell and Romford, asking the public to support her. As well as raising money for the charity, Megan hopes that her skydive will bring Missing People to the attention of others. She explains that despite the charity not being at the forefront of the public’s awareness, it is constantly recommended to families as a lifeline by the police in missing person’s cases, making it a vital charity for those 250,000 people who go missing each year along with their loved ones.

If you would like to support Megan with her skydive, and keep up to date with her fundraising, head over to her Just Giving page to make a donation.

Penned by Alice Attlee
Social Media Volunteer at Missing People

Friday, 25 April 2014

Di Cullington – An extraordinary lady: an extraordinary career (Part Three)

Some memorable cases
Di was involved in hundreds of cases, all important to the families who were searching for a loved one and desperate to know what had happened to them. Inevitably, some cases stood out:

Most of us are familiar with the horrific crimes of Fred and Rosemary West. NMPH were asked to assist with the identification of the bodies discovered in the bricked up part of the Wests’ cellar. Around one third of these were identified from the input of NMPH.

In 1995 NMPH was asked to assist in identifying a man whose body was pulled from the sea in Blackpool. As a result of a post mortem photo reconstruction undertaken by Di the man was successfully identified.

On a number of occasions the police gave Di the skull from a decomposed body and Di would undertake a 3D clay facial reconstruction in her studio at home. Di recalls one case involving a French man whose body had been discovered in Scotland. The initial forensic police reports on the body put the man as smaller, and much older, than he actually was. Despite this misleading information, Di’s reconstruction led to his identification after being featured on the television programme 'Crimewatch'. The family had been searching for him for 2 years but had never linked the body found in Scotland with the missing man because of the age discrepancy.

The co-founders of NMPH encouraged Di to assist the police on cases NMPH weren’t involved with so as to raise the awareness of the police to the specialized and professional work undertaken by the charity. These included paedophile and aging cases such as the case of Annie K, whose body was exhumed in 1998 when it was suspected that she had been the victim of fraud and her will rewritten. All the photographs of Annie in the last 25 years of her life had been destroyed. Di was given a photograph of a much younger Annie and asked to “age” it. As a result of this it was shown that Annie had indeed been impersonated at the Solicitor’s office when the impersonator had given instructions to change Annie’s will in favour of the nursing home where she spent her last days! Di went on to train and qualify as an accredited Police Artist.

Di’s legacy
Di retired in 2001 but stayed on as a consultant for some time after in order to assist the department which she had instigated and developed. NMPH was relaunched as 'Missing People' in 2007 and in the years thereafter has undergone a restructuring which led to the ID department eventually being disbanded.

One of the factors in the decision to disband the department was the establishment of the UK Missing Persons Bureau in April 2008. The Missing
Persons Bureau provides support and advice to police forces throughout the UK to help resolve missing person cases and assist in the identification of bodies and remains. They maintain a central national database of missing persons and unidentified cases. In October 2012 Missing People and the Missing Persons Bureau entered into a Strategic Partnership Agreement on the shared premise that by working together they can more effectively safeguard vulnerable people, resolve missing persons’ cases and provide support to the families of the missing.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Di Cullington – An extraordinary lady: an extraordinary career (Part Two)

The Identification and Reconstruction Department of the National Missing Persons Helpline

Di established the Identification and Reconstruction Department which evolved with the growth of the helpline. An early description of the department’s aims reads:

“An unidentified body, whether alive (unconscious, Alzheimer’s, amnesiac) or dead, is a missing person until the family or next of kin has been informed. It also registers details of non-vulnerable missing persons whose disappearance may not have been reported to the police, and has an extensive database of relatives seeking news of missing persons. This may be particularly valuable in cases where the unidentified person appears to have lost touch with his or her family. Records are kept of people who have been missing for many years and are never removed from the database.”

Di’s department provided a free service to police, coroners, hospitals and nursing homes by running a check of its database for possible matches with the unidentified body, for example, by clothing or physical description. Di was skilled in modifying post mortem photographs on computer to aid identification. When all other avenues had been exhausted, Di could undertake a 3D clay reconstruction on skeletal or decomposed remains.

It was already apparent to the charity that one of the problems attached to the issue of missing people concerned the bodies or parts of bodies which would be found. In the 1990s, police records were not centralized but the NMPH register was a national one. One of the methods used by NMPH was to organize conferences and seminars for the police, to inform them of the work of the charity and the ID department, and to establish a good working relationship between them and the charity. That collaboration was a key element to the growth of the service to the families of missing people.

In a lecture delivered to a large gathering of police officers in 1999, Di said:

“Please contact us with your bodies! Don’t just call the nearest medical person available but phone the helpdesk here and we can refer you to an expert. It is a race between us to identify the person first but who wins is unimportant…it is a race against time and the family needs to know the outcome as soon as possible”.

In time, contacts in the police were made and protocols were established whereby NMPH were consulted when a person went missing or a body was found. In the ID department, following a referral by the police, there would initially be a search of the NMPH database. All the information on the body – false teeth, baldness, scars – would be entered into the system and this would result in a significant number of people being eliminated immediately. The police would be asked to send in a photo of the body as this occasionally meant that identification was possible from the photos of missing people in the NMPH records.

Di’s travels
Di travelled far and wide as she sought to increase her skills in this fascinating area. In 1995 she attended the InternationalAssociation for Craniofacial Identification Conference in Florida. Thereafter, she was elected to the committee of that Association and attended international conferences where she met other forensic artists from around the world and where the exchange of information in the latest developments operated on a global basis.

An exciting opportunity arose for NMPH in 1998 when Di and a colleague travelled to The Hague to talk about the charity’s work at a Europol (European police) meeting.  At this time, there was no equivalent of the NMPH in Europe.

In 1999 Di spoke at the British Council’s third International Seminar on Advancing the Scientific Investigation of Crime.

Perhaps the most memorable trip for Di occurred in March 2001 when she attended an intense 3 week course for forensic artists at the FBI Academy located on the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. Di describes this experience as perhaps the most challenging of her professional life. Di was accommodated in the FBI agents’ building with mock training exercises taking place at all times of the day and night around her. She was given very clear advice when she arrived: “if someone tells you to stop or they will shoot – stop.” Di would often see helicopters flying overhead with marines hanging out of t
hem waving guns – coming from the leafy, quiet suburb of East Sheen, it was not easy to absorb.

Penned by Helen Ryan
Volunteer Case Study Writer at Missing People

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Di Cullington – An extraordinary lady: an extraordinary career (Part One)

It is hard to believe that Di Cullington started her amazing career as a volunteer. At that point, around 1990, it would not have occurred to Di that some 9 years later she would be Head of the Identification and Reconstruction Department of the charity National Missing Persons Helpline (NMPH) with an expertise in age progression, post mortem and 3D clay skull reconstructions and recognised throughout the world.

In a short CV produced by Di in February 1999, she gave the following information about herself:

“I believe I am currently the only person in Europe practising the techniques of child age progression on computer, taught at the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the USA. I have done several at the request of the British police including Ben Needham and 7  for the Belgium police. Adult “agings” include Catherine Costello, first wife of Fred West, and Lord Lucan. This work has produced much publicity for NMPH  on news items broadcast by the BBC, ITV, Reuters, Sky TV, GMTV and in the national press. It has also featured on programs including Crimewatch, Crimestoppers, How Do They Do That and also in many magazines and journals.

My work has led to families being reunited, the identification of bodies and to prosecutions.”

Although an artist, working in clay, and with a knowledge of human musculature, Di did not join the charity with any ambition to become one of the leading lights in this vital area of the organisation’s work. It happened by chance. Initially, Di just wanted to help out Mary Asprey and Janet Newman who, following the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh in 1986, had set up a free helpline (operated initially from a back bedroom) for the families of missing persons.

But the spark that ignited Di’s career occurred in the autumn of 1991 when Janet and Mary visited the organisation “National Centerfor Missing and Exploited Children” in Washington. It was there that they learned of the age progression techniques which were being developed to age the photographs of missing children. Through this first visit, Mary and Janet were asked if they would like to send a representative to be trained in these techniques funded by the American Department of Justice. Di was selected as being someone who had the skills relevant to the course.

So it was that in the spring of 1992, Di found herself in Washington undertaking a 3 week course, surrounded by trained forensic artists all highly experienced in their various roles. It was an intense course with many challenges but Di was hooked. Her passion had begun and thus started a vital chapter in the charity’s history whose legacy endures today in Missing People.

Penned by Helen Ryan 
Volunteer Case Study Writer at Missing People.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Missing People's brave London Marathon runners

I remember the agonising leg pain like it was yesterday.

The indignity of my at-the-time girlfriend having to help me out of the bath still occasionally haunts me. It would be fair to say that the London Marathon ruined me back in 2009, which thankfully feels like an eternity ago.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Miles for Missing People Part Two

After Sue Allan’s wonderful post last month on how she is preparing herself for her first ever 10K run for Miles for Missing People, we decided to include another story of somebody who will be running the race. Meet Frans Navarro, who is taking on the 10K challenge…and then some!

“I first heard of Missing People and realised what a great charity they are in 2013. I had never realised that so many people in the UK go missing and was particularly shocked that 140,000 of those are children. I decided to sign up to Miles to do my bit to help. As fitness is part of my job I didn’t feel 10k would really stretch me enough to justify asking for sponsorship. So, in 2013 I decided to run the course twice to make it a distance of 20km. I managed to raise over £100 and really enjoyed the whole thing.

“When my friend asked me to sign up again this year I jumped at the chance to do so but needed a new challenge so I could get sponsorship again. Therefore, I have decided to run just 10k this time but with 100 pounds weight. I’m really looking forward to being involved with the charity again as I love how they support family and friends whose loved ones are missing.”

It is fantastic to hear how people of all abilities are training for our Miles for Missing People 10K challenge on Saturday 17th May. We hope that these posts will show that whether you’re starting running for the first time, or you can already take on 10K runs with your eyes closed (though this perhaps isn’t really advisable!) our event at Clapham Common  is a fantastic opportunity to flex your running and fundraising muscles!   

If you’d like to join in the fun but aren’t sure you’ll be able to manage 10 kilometers this time, there will also be a 3K run, along with a kids’ race too. Feeling inspired to join in the race? 

Visit to find out more…

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Missing People Local Volunteer Day

Last Saturday, 22 Missing People Volunteers and 9 members of staff gave up their day to become better informed about the charity and its cause. At 11 o’clock, Team Leaders from across the country gathered at Head Office (and staff came even earlier) for a day of team building, talks, emotional speeches, technical information…and cake! 

The aim of the day was to bring Volunteer Team Leaders and other local volunteers together; to celebrate successes, to reflect and review past work and give further insight into the work that Missing People do with a focus on community and national fundraising and presenting future plans. By all accounts, it was a great success, with one volunteer saying “I enjoyed meeting staff and other volunteers and finding out about what they do and what inspired them to work for Missing People.” Everyone agreed that it was a great opportunity to get everyone together and put faces to names.

The office was a hive of activity; and all present were warmly welcomed by the one and only Sir Trevor McDonald, a long-time supporter of the charity. In his opening speech, the news reading legend praised the volunteers for their dedication, and ruminated on the agonies faced by families of people that go missing. He also explained that although during his tenure as anchor on ITV news he announced many cases on missing people, it was not until he became involved in Missing People that he truly understood the full impact of such cases.

These thoughts were poignantly followed by a deeply moving speech by Peter Boxell, the father of Lee Boxell, who went missing on Saturday 10th September 1988, and has not been seen since. The audience listened in raptured silence as he sang a song he wrote about Lee, which was given its first airing at last year’s Missing People Carol Service. The words were, needless to say, heart-wrenching, and reminded everyone how important the work of Missing People is to people like Peter.

Following that, Viv Fowler, Missing People Helpline Supervisor, gave insight into the role she plays within the charity. As with Peter Boxell’s talk before her, the atmosphere was emotionally charged
After two emotional talks, the volunteers flooded out into the kitchen for some much-needed tea, where talk invariably circled around what everyone had just heard. All agreed that the day was providing an important reminder of the reasons behind choosing to volunteer. Focus was then drawn to future campaigns and events, such as Miles for Missing People and Everything Stops for Tea, details of which will follow in future blogs, tweets and Facebook Posts.

It was at this point that the real achievements of the day started to take off; all present began to talk collaboratively about what they wanted out of their volunteering experiences.  Local volunteers at the end of the day felt they would be able to go forward and “Let other people know more about Missing People; implement new ideas in order to promote Missing People’s work.”   … and this was all before lunch!

Our dedicated friends at Tallboy Productions very kindly gave up a day to film for us, interviewing Trevor McDonald along with volunteers and staff about our upcoming campaigns, which will bring people together in support of Missing People and its cause through tea parties. The rest of the day was taken up with breakout groups of volunteers discussing in-depth how areas wished to go forward from the day, and the event ended with a roundup of final thoughts. 

The day was packed full to make the very most of everyone’s time, and the comments of the volunteers who were involves speak for themselves. Here are just a few quotes from the event:

“glad I came”

“Brilliant day”

“Very informative and interesting.”

“Lovely atmosphere and a fun day”
…It doesn’t get better than that!

Penned by Alice Attlee

Missing People Social Media Volunteer

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.