SPECIAL REPORT: Families devastated when their loved ones just disappear

Specialist police officers search for Gary Bryan near Taddington in 2010.
Specialist police officers search for Gary Bryan near Taddington in 2010.

It is one of the worst things that could ever happen to a family, yet sadly it is much more common than you might think.

Figures from the UK Missing Persons Bureau show a person is reported to the police as missing approximately every two minutes.

Search for Gary Bryan, Insp. Martin Coey

Search for Gary Bryan, Insp. Martin Coey

In many cases, they are found and reunited with their families fairly quickly.

But sadly there’s also a large proportion of people who have been missing for many years – leaving their families devastated and confused as they wonder what has happened to their loved ones.

In Derbyshire, there are six people who are currently missing, some of whom haven’t been seen for more than three years.

Buxton Section Inspector Martin Coey, who has many years’ experience of dealing with missing persons, said: “It is really difficult for a family that doesn’t know what happened.

“They just grab on to any possibility. Every knock on the door, every phone call is difficult as they are hoping that their loved one might just walk in.

“If someone is deceased, the family can start the grieving process. They’ll accept it even though they don’t like it, but you can’t with a missing person because you just don’t know.”

Inspector Coey added that even in cases where people have been missing long term, the investigation never ends.

“The investigation is always ongoing and always reviewed,” he said. “The regional team will review cases, which is really looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes and seeing if there’s any lines of enquiry which haven’t been followed up.”

The Derbyshire force uses a system called Compact, which details any activity relating to the search.

By inputting all the information relating to an investigation, this system can help forces track down vital information about the missing person, even if they have left the force’s area.

Once someone has been reported missing, officers will take initial details in order to begin their investigation. Numerous lines of enquiry will be followed up, including speaking to family members, friends, work colleagues and even looking into their financial circumstances.

Each case will be categorised into low, medium and high risk, which enables officers to look at the best response to provide and where best to search.

“For example, if a two-year-old goes missing, they will be a high risk but the assessment can change every day, and even every hour if need be. Every case will be reviewed every day by a senior officer.

“We have to put a proportionate response to each case. We also have a national database for advice.”

Across the country, forces record vast volumes of data relating to missing people, enabling them to allocate them into certain groups, which in turn can help officers determine where best to look for them first.

And it’s not just police who get involved when someone goes missing. Often in Derbyshire the mountain rescue teams are called in to help, but cave rescue teams, 4x4 clubs, and even local people can help.

One new scheme which has been introduced locally involves postal workers, refuse collectors, schools and other people who work in the community being asked to help in the search. “These are all key people in the community who are our eyes and ears,” Inspector Coey explained.

He added: “We’re really lucky in Derbyshire to get that help and support from mountain rescue. There are seven teams in the Peak District who we regularly ask for help when looking for vulnerable missing persons.”

And Inspector Coey added that anyone who is missing is free to contact police without fear of being in trouble, even if they don’t want to return home. Anyone with information about a missing person should contact police on 101.

The charity Missing People, www.missingpeople.org.uk, offers help and support for families of a missing person, 24/7. They can be contacted on the free helpline, 116 000.

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Related websites

Derbyshire police

Missing People charity