Written evidence submitted by Missing People (POP0070)


1)      What a modern police service, fit for the 2020s and beyond, looks like;

1. Our answers to the following questions will set out how we think a modern police service must prioritise the response to missing children and adults, ensuring the protection of some of the most vulnerable people within society whilst working alongside other agencies to address the root causes of people going missing.


2)      What balance police forces in England and Wales should strike between a focus on preventing and solving crime and carrying out their other functions;

2. Finding missing people and making them safe must be a priority for a modern police service. For the 170,000 people reported missing each year, their disappearance is a sign of serious crisis and can be a life or death issue. We know that the majority of people who are reported missing experience harm, with research showing significant links with exploitation[1], self-harm, suicide and with at least 1 in 3 missing adults being a victim of crime[2]. The number of people who die while missing has been increasing at an alarming rate, and is now higher than the number of people who die by homicide. In 2019/20; 762 people died while missing in England and Wales compared to 695 by homicide.[3]

3. Finding and safeguarding missing people helps prevent and solve crimes, and can save lives. Going missing is linked to issues that make up many policing responsibilities:

4. Only the police have the investigative powers and skills to find missing people at risk of harm, such as reviewing financial and phone activity for high risk missing people. Their role is vital and they must continue to be central to the response.

5. We know that pressures on the police are extremely high. National research published in 2021 has found that 60% of police officers working in missing persons do not feel they have sufficient resources to deal with missing person investigations. Policing is becoming more complex and demanding.  New threats of terrorism, cybercrime and online abuse and exploitation are taking up significant police resource.  Although police forces are now benefiting from funding for recruiting new officers, the resource challenges for missing person investigations remain at least for the short-term.


6. This however is not a moment for the police to step back from safeguarding missing people, but an opportunity for other agencies to step forward and work with the police to reduce the harm linked to going missing – and ensure the police’s role is manageable within its resources. Responding to missing should not be solely a police responsibility. Adults and children go missing because of a wide range of societal issues and an effective response requires a joined-up approach across police, local authorities, the NHS and other agencies. In addition the national charity Missing People provides police forces with a range of services that can help safeguard missing people and support their families, including support with the search for missing people, and sending a TextSafe message offering confidential, non-judgemental support to a missing person while they are missing on the request of the police. Evidence shows that Missing People’s support to police forces saves at least £2 million a year in police time leading to better outcomes and reduced demand on police forces.


7. A police force for the future should have multi-agency working at its core, with resource and capacity built in to develop and maintain these relationships, which can in turn help to reduce demand.


3)      What roles police forces should prioritise;

8. As detailed in our response to the previous question, safeguarding missing children and adults should be a key priority for the police due to the importance of protecting those at risk and helping those who are harmed while away.

9. We also want to emphasise the importance of considering the families of missing people. As a charity we provide support to more than 1,000 families who have reported a loved one missing each year. Our work is informed by consultation and research with people who have lived experience of a loved one going missing.

10. Families tell us that their loved one going missing is often the most devastating moment that they have faced. Their concern about their child, parent, spouse, sibling or any other loved one’s safety, and the fear they experience not knowing whether they are okay or when they will be found, is constant and overshadows everything else happening in their life.

11. For many the experience of having a loved one missing is akin to being a victim of crime. Families report traumatisation, fear, anxiety, physical and mental health impacts and a range of other harms.[5]

12. We know the police are responsible for responding to a huge range of incidents, but we believe it is important to remember what is most important to the people the police serve, and finding a lost loved one, preventing harm and providing support when others wouldn’t be able to, is near the top of those priorities.

13. We also know that the public strongly supports the police prioritising the search for missing people.


14. The Police Foundation Strategic Review focused on what the public’s priorities are for the police. This work asked members of the public to rank different policing responsibilities in terms of priority. The top 10 priorities (out of 48) included tackling sexual violence, tackling knife crime and serious violence, keeping children and young people safe and identifying and tackling modern slavery and trafficking.[6] Because all of these issues relate closely to missing people, by responding effectively and safeguarding missing people, the police will be focusing on these public priorities


15. In 2021, an Opinium survey with 2,000 adults across the UK[7] found that the vast majority of people agree that the police should search for vulnerable missing adults and children, as shown in the table below.





Neither agree or disagree 

The police should look for an adult who has gone missing experiencing mental health crisis










The police should look for a child who has gone missing and is believed to be being exploited











16. In the Police Foundation’s research, asking members of the public to rank police priorities, finding missing people who might be at risk ranked 13/48 priorities.[8] When this finding is combined with Missing People’s own research, it is clear that finding missing people is a key priority for the public and should remain a key priority for the police.


4)      What can be done to improve community policing and increase trust in police officers and forces, including on funding and on disciplinary powers when police officer behaviour falls below required standards;


17. Research published in 2021[9] found that missing person investigations represent one of the biggest demands on policing resource, but one in five officers (20%) involved in missing persons have not had any training in this area, and three quarters of officers (73%) stated they would benefit from more training. The research highlights that a lack of training means officers lack skills and knowledge of effective investigatory techniques, leading to reactive and potentially ineffective and inefficient approaches and also means officers struggle to work on proactive approaches to “get upstream” when people are going missing repeatedly and work with other agencies to prevent those repeat episodes.

18. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IoPC) produced a special report on missing persons. Learning the Lessons[10] outlines a range of case studies, highlighting issues with police investigations, including issues with identifying risk linked to missing people with mental health issues and the need for officers to be trained to understand the impact of mental health on missing people’s behaviour, as well as the importance of families’ concerns in informing police responses.

19. Families often raise concerns about the level of communication from the police throughout the investigation. Many families feel confused and frustrated if they are not kept informed on the investigation, or not given meaningful direction on the action they themselves can take.

20. Failures to communicate effectively with the family can also have a negative impact on the investigation. Families will often know the missing person best and have vital information about locations the person may have attended or what the person may be doing. Families’ instincts should be listened to and used to inform the investigation.

21. More training should be provided to all officers who are involved with missing person investigations to ensure that they understand the complex drivers for why people go missing; and how to provide a person-centred response for both the missing person and their family. Professional curiosity and flexible approaches to meet the need of each individual episode should be encouraged. Without this the police risk failing to safeguard people at significant risk, while also causing distress and breaking down trust amongst those they serve.

22. Some marginalised communities are at increased risk of going missing and yet do not always get an equitable and effective response. Black people are disproportionately likely to go missing, but research[11] carried out by Missing People found that people of colour had experienced discrimination when reporting someone as missing because of their or their missing loved one’s ethnicity. The over-representation combined with an inequitable response has eroded trust in the police amongst some Black communities. This must be addressed to ensure that everyone, in particular those who are at greater risk, can feel confident that the police will make every effort to find their loved one and ensure their safety. Missing People have recently published a response[12] to the Police Race Action Plan setting out some recommendations for improvements.


5)      Specifically, what the Metropolitan Police must do to increase trust under its new Commissioner; and

23. In our answer to the previous question we spoke about discrimination in the response to missing Black people. This is an issue the Metropolitan Police specifically need to prioritise addressing. The families of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Richard Okorogheye and many others have spoken out about their poor experiences when reporting a loved one missing within London.


6)      What steps can be taken to improve national conviction rates, including via relationships with other bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service.

24. Not applicable


November 2022

[1] https://www.missingpeople.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/A_Safer_Return-full.pdf

[2] https://www.missingpeople.org.uk/for-professionals/policy-and-research/information-and-research/research-about-missing/missing-adults-research

[3] https://missingpersons.police.uk/cy-gb/resources/downloads/missing-persons-statistical-bulletinshttps://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/homicideinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2020

[4] Data from Missing Persons Data Report 2018-19, UKMPU at the NCA and Missing People

[5] https://www.missingpeople.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Living_in_Limbo_2008-1.pdf

[6] https://www.police-foundation.org.uk/2017/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/insight_paper_1.pdf

[7] Further information available from Missing People

[8] https://www.police-foundation.org.uk/2017/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/insight_paper_1.pdf

[9] https://pure.port.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/28691081/Final_version.pdf

[10] https://policeconduct.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/Learningthelessons/36/LearningtheLessons_Issue36_December_2019.pdf

[11] https://www.missingpeople.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/37077_EMEA-Brochure_Pro-Bono-Missing-People-V3.pdf