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Our aim is to improve existing guidelines with cohesive communication between all parties to preserve the life of the missing person
Mistakes in the early days of a missing person investigation impact the entire case. Too many long-term missing persons cases remain unsolved and over time become non-operational, compounding the agony of families suffering ambiguous loss. Mishandling of investigations is resulting in more complaints being filed with Police Standards Departments (PSD) and IPCC (now IOPC). Police should be held accountable for their inactions and passage of time should not be allowed to be used as an excuse.
Missing People is the only registered UK charity of its kind, supported by Missing Persons Bureau and their network partners. Ireland have National Missing Persons Helpline and Missing Irish People website. Despite Lucie Blackman Trust doing an amazing job supporting families with missing loved ones abroad, cross-border co-operation between authorities remains poor, leaving families bereft.
Young men especially continue to go under the radar. They are frequently classed as ‘lads being lads’. Families have to be taken more seriously and if they tell police it is out of character, this should be acted upon and taken into consideration. Gathering evidence remains erratic between forces and invaluable time is being lost to secure CCTV and critical evidence. We need to make a difference and ensure guidelines are improved to ensure more people are found alive.
I, hereby, petition the Prime Minister Rt Hon Theresa May and Home Secretary, to acknowledge the distress and anguish suffered by families when the disappearance of a loved one is not properly responded to resulting in a long and painful wait. I also ask that the following recommendations are adopted:
- All cases involving those under 18 years of age should be assessed in accordance with the guidelines set out for the activation of Child Rescue Alert and an alert should be issued in appropriate circumstances.
- The risks associated with missing after a night out should be acknowledged by the police and other professionals. The response to people missing in this situation should be reviewed.
- The concerns of families should be taken more seriously when a person is reported missing. A family member’s assertion that a missing episode is out of character should always be taken into account and the risk assessment should be upgraded accordingly.
- Specialist training for police officers investigating missing persons, including training on risk assessment, should be updated to include an improved understanding of missing on a night out and working with families reporting the missing person. In addition to this, Police need to understand the psychological and emotional damage suffered by family left behind. It's like a life sentence of despair and grief. PTSD is a reaction to a traumatic event. Losing a family member, especially a child with no knowledge as to why is devastating. Even when the family have resigned themselves that the missing person is dead it’s still impossible to grieve.
- If a missing person is deemed medium or high risk, specialist search teams and equipment should be used in the early stages of the police investigation to secure evidence and increase the probability of finding the missing person alive.
- Some long-term missing person investigations receive significant police resources whereas others receive much less. All families with a missing loved one need to know that everything possible is being done to find their missing loved one. There should be greater transparency about how police allocate resources. This might help improve understanding by families about what resource is likely to be devoted to their missing loved one’s investigation.
A Centre of Expertise for Missing Persons for the UK & Ireland is a vision Charlie Hedges MBE would like implemented, which we fully support. It would incorporate specialist training in risk assessment, priority collection of CCTV footage for medium/high risk cases, more understanding & empathy for families and greater transparency in media awareness and funding expectation. By utilising joint agency specialist teams it would escalate the chances of finding the missing person alive. It would also give families reassurance everything possible was being done for their loved one to be found. With a dedicated long-term missing unit, the aim would be to ensure cases did not become non-operational and to overturn the current statistics for unsolved investigations. Lucie Blackman Trust has shown a keen interest in getting involved with the project.
My situation is not unique. I am a Family Representative for Missing People since Damien went missing and retain a close unity with parents of other long-term missing children. The Missing People charity is all we have and the job is massive and the funds are short for one organisation to be able to sustain the needs of the magnitude of the issue.
Damien was 16yrs old when he went missing in Cowes, Isle of Wight on 2 November 1996. A missing person report was filed the following afternoon. Unfortunately, the police recorded his age incorrectly as 19yrs old, assessed him as low risk and his disappearance was therefore not taken seriously for several weeks. Throughout this time I attempted to explain that Damien’s absence was out of character and that he would not willfully be out of contact. However, I was portrayed as a ‘hysterical woman’ by officers because I was begging for assistance to find my son.
In the first few weeks after Damien went missing requests by the family for search teams, a helicopter and deployment of search dogs were all refused. In hindsight, if these actions had been taken, there would have been more chance to gather crucial evidence in the early days. Instead I am here 21 years later still looking for answers, with no explanation of what happened to my son. There are now no clear lines of enquiry due to the lack of evidence gathered in the critical days and weeks following Damien’s disappearance.
A review in 2007 determined Damien was likely murdered, but without definite answers we remain in limbo as a family. A complaint in 2016 containing over 30 grievances was referred to IPCC, who handed it back to the force to investigate their own investigation. While some issues were upheld, many weren’t. A subsequent appeal to IPCC was not upheld due to passage of time. I am unable to declare Damien dead and no further forward to knowing what happened to my son.
I call upon you to support this petition to implement these recommendations and acknowledge the suffering that my family has endured throughout the 21yrs of waiting for news of Damien. To prevent other families having to endure the same heartbreak it is vital that families are listened to, that effective risk assessments are made, and appropriate steps are taken in the search to find the missing person alive.
While my wish to find Damien’s remains, have convictions secured and justice delivered may not be realised, if these recommendations are considered I hope it will help other families who find themselves in the same unfortunate situation.
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