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Issue 1


Britains Stolen Memories Photography by Nikky Bottomley Š


Britains Missing People Familys stolen of thier memories

About 600 people will get up this morning, walk out of their front door or slip out of a back window - and disappear. In so doing they join the 210,000 people - roughly the population of Milton Keynes - reported missing in Britain every year. Yesterday, in recognition of the size of the problem, the Home Office announced that it is to give £600,000 in core funding to the main national helpline that logs missing people. Such is the volume of disappearances that a growing number of police forces are adopting a special protocol for dealing with the problem. Missing people tend to fit into a number of main categories: young men in their 20s; children who run away from care or from families, often because of abuse or neglect; middle-aged people, mainly male, who may have suffered a financial or emotional blow and cannot face the stress at home any more; and elderly people suffering from dementia.

While most of those who go missing later return or get back in touch, thousands do not. A few may be identified through their remains while others may emerge years later with new identities. “The most vulnerable people who go missing are in care,” said Janet Newman, one of the co-founders in 1992 with her sister, Mary Asprey, of the National Missing Persons Helpline (NMPH). About a third of all children in care will at some stage go missing, with girls between 13 and 17 the highest proportion. While, understandably, the greatest publicity is given to runaway children, there is also a growing number of young men for whom life has become too problematic at home and who slip quietly away, often never to be seen again.

Photography by Nikky Bottomley © Page 3-4


Photography by Nikky Bottomley ©

Mental health Around 30% of those who go missing have mental problems of one kind or another. Some old people with severe dementia also go missing and some are later found dead: “It’s marvellous for them because it probably brings them peace, but terrible for those left behind.” Another category of concern involves young women who may have run away from home or young eastern European women who have been trafficked into brothels. The vast scale of the problem in this age group was

finally brought to light by the Fred and Rosemary West investigation, when it became clear that many of the young women they had murdered from the 70s onwards had not been reported missing. The helpline played a major part in identifying four of their victims. The NMPH’s chief executive, Paul Tuohy, welcomed the £600,000 in Home Office funding. “This important grant confirms government’s recognition of the vital role NMPH plays in the issue of missing persons,” said Mr Tuohy.


“However, it is still only 25% of the income we need every year to run our services, so public and private sector support is still vital.” According to research by Nina Biehal, Fiona Mitchell and Jim Wade of the University of York, entitled Lost from View, two-thirds of the missing have decided to disappear because of relationship breakdowns, personal problems, violence at home or mental health issues. One in five “drift” away or have a transient lifestyle, while 16% suffer from dementia or other mental problems, suffer accidents or fail to realise people are looking for

them. Only 1% of people are missing due to crime. While the NMPH, which has a staff of 55 with 150 volunteers in East Sheen in south London, has a relationship with the police, it makes it clear to callers that it will not pass on information to the police if the caller does not want it to. Some people do not want to be traced. “We had one university lecturer who said ‘how dare you look for me’,” said Mary Asprey. “He was going to sue us.” The NMPH does not pass on any information about a missing person’s whereabouts without permission. Page 5-6


New techniques Teri Blythe of the Helpline's identification and reconstruction unit is a specialist in this field. Even if the age-enhanced photo did not lead to a person being traced, she said, it could be a help to parents to see what a missing child might look like now. "DNA has changed everything," said Sophie Woodforde, spokeswoman for NMPH. "The body of someone who went missing in 1986 can now be identified through a pen they chewed nearly 20 years ago. DNA used to cost thousands but now it can be done for a few hundred." Even if the DNA brings confirmation that a missing person is dead, it can comfort the family. "The worst part for the family is not knowing." There are a number of organisations apart from the police and NMPH that help trace missing people. The internet has given new hope to families and there is a website, look4them.org.uk, which coordinates all the organisations in the UK. The Salvation Army, which has been helping to reconnect families since the 19th century, undertakes 4,500 inquiries a year and tracks down people in about 85% of them, although they tend to be family members who have drifted away rather than decided to disappear. Some families never abandon hope of ever seeing the missing person again. One woman, whose husband disappeared, always left a letter for him on a table in the hall. One day he did indeed return, looked through the window and saw the letter, broke in, and they were reunited. By Duncan Campbell


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Photography by Nikky Bottomley © Please Vist www.missingpersons.police.uk for more info.

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Photography by Nikky Bottomley Š



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