Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. South Wales Police receives, on average, more than 8,000 missing persons reports every year. During the first two months of 2022 alone, almost 1,000 people have been reported as missing to us.
People go missing for a variety of reasons, often leaving behind distraught loved ones and concerned associates who desperate for answers and their safe return. The perception that people ‘choose’ to go missing may cause others to overlook a myriad of external factors, which may affect a person’s ability to make rational decisions or force them to make decisions they are not mature enough to make.
As a result, investigating disappearances is complex and often requires specialist resources. At South Wales Police we have dedicated Missing Persons Teams and officers and staff who specialise in dealing with everything from Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), Criminal Exploitation, Adults at Risk, and Mental Health.
In order to locate missing people as quickly and as safely as possible, we draw on a variety of additional resources, including our Public Service Centre (Control Room), dogs and mounted sections, drones specialists, our Specialist Search Teams and the National Police Air Service (NPAS). The coordination of complex searches will be overseen by a Police Search Advisor (PolSA).
We also work closely with a range of partners, including local authorities, HM Coastguard, and voluntary or charitable organisations such as the RNLI and Mountain Rescue Teams.
Detective Sergeant Leanne Heaven and Rob Lowe, a senior social worker with Swansea Council, explain some of the complexities involved in searching for a missing child – and why there can be no one-size-fits all to investigating and appealing for information on their whereabouts.
Help us to help you
Time is of the essence when vulnerable individuals go missing and being able to provide as much information as possible when reporting your concerns about a loved one can be invaluable.
As well as clear descriptions and information about last known movements, it can also be really helpful to have any details about additional vulnerabilities to hand.
Keep Safe Cymru card
South Wales Police, Learning Disability Services and Mencap Cymru, have jointly developed a Keep Safe Card Scheme for anyone in the South Wales Police force area with a learning disability, mental health, dementia and/or communication need.
If as a card holder, you need assistance, whether you are lost, a victim of crime or you are any situation that means you need some extra support, you can use the card to access this help. The card will hold basic information about you, such as how you prefer to be communicated with, any health issues and any emergency contacts such as your parents or carer.
The Herbert Protocol is a risk-reduction form designed to assist the police when someone with dementia or Alzheimer's goes missing.
Carers, family or friends of a vulnerable person, or the person themselves are encouraged to complete the form – and keep it regularly updated – with various details including medication, places previously located, and a recent photograph.
The form only needs to be given to police if the individual does go missing, but there is also the option of emailing the form to us to keep on file in order for us to be able to access relevant information quicker in the event of your loved one going missing.
It’s a misconception that ‘missing’ means ‘taken’ or ‘abducted’; abductions are rare and account for a very small minority of missing person reports in the UK. A missing person is defined as someone whose whereabouts cannot be established. They will be considered missing until they care located and their wellbeing or otherwise is established. Often the missing person themselves does not consider themselves ‘missing’, however until they are sighted safe and well by police as a result of the concerns raised for them, they will be classed as a missing person.
Do I have to wait 24 hours before reporting someone missing?
No, that is a myth. If you have concerns about someone’s behaviour, state of mind or whereabouts, or if their absence is out of character or doesn’t feel right, then you should get contact.
What can I do if I have concerns that someone is missing?
Before reporting someone missing, you could consider some of the following steps:
ring round friends and family
check your phone and email for messages
search the home or wherever they were last seen
leave the missing person's room and things alone as much as possible in case DNA samples are needed later
check the loft, garden, shed or garage
remember that children can fit into small spaces
look for any notes or other clues
ring round local hospitals
If you can, make a note of everything you do.
If you believe there is an immediate risk, these steps are not essential; please follow your instinct and contact police.
What happens when I report someone missing?
Whether you contact us via telephone or online, colleagues in our Public Service Centre will try and gather as much relevant information as possible as this will determine our initial police response. This information will also support those responsible for the initial risk assessment in their decision-making process, directing the priority of the police response and level of resources needed.
Does South Wales Police receive many missing person reports?
In the past five years, more than 41,500 people were reported missing to South Wales Police. On average 17 people were reported missing each day during the first two months of 2022.
Why do you use social media to appeal for missing people?
Social media is just one of many tools available to us when trying to locate a missing person as quickly and safely as possible. Social Media does, however, help us reach a large number of people in a variety of areas very quickly. Our followers often provide very useful information and possible sightings and as such social media appeals have proven successful on a number of occasions.
If it has a far reach, why don’t you appeal on social media straight away?
As explained, social media is just one investigative tool available to us. When someone is reported missing we conduct a number of enquiries, including talking to family, friends and associates, CCTV enquiries, financial and phone enquiries. Often we are able to locate individuals without the need for social media.
Why don’t you appeal for everyone via social media?
We have to treat every case individually and consider the circumstances in which the individual has gone missing. In some instances we are able to find the individual without the need for a social media appeal, and in other instances it could be that appealing on social media could have a detrimental effect. For example, if we had reason to believe circulating an appeal may put the individual at an increased risk, either to themselves of from others, then we would not circulate.
The safeguarding of the individual concerned is always paramount.
Why don’t you remove appeals when someone comments to say they are safe?
We have to be certain that someone has been located before we can close a missing person investigation, and a social media comment does not provide that certainty. Until our officers have sighted the individual, we will remain concerned for their welfare. Some comments could be well-intentioned but incorrect, while others could be written by someone posing as the missing individual.
Why don’t you tell us more in your appeals?
The priority in these cases is always ensuring the safe return of the missing individual. We are careful to put out enough information to suitably inform the public to enable them to assist with the appeal, while balancing the individual’s right to privacy and minimising any further risk to them. We don’t withhold information to mislead the public; every decision is made with the missing individual in mind.
How can I get involved in a search?
While we appreciate our communities’ concerns when a person goes missing, and the genuine offers of help and support, we kindly ask that the public don’t conduct their own searches.
We ask this for a number of reasons; our searches are coordinated by highly-trained, well-equipped search experts who take an intelligence-led, methodical approach which everyone involved understands and follows.
Although well-intentioned, members of the public can be placing themselves at risk while out searching, and additional accidents or injuries would detract from the original search.
Their efforts could also hamper the official search; for example their presence could impact on the scent being tracked by the trained search dogs. Our search managers are also forensically aware from the outset in the event that a missing person inquiry should later become a criminal investigation.
On very rare occasions, it may be that the public would be called upon to join the search, but again, those searches would be professionally organised and managed, with very clear parameters communicated and agreed with all concerned.
While members of the public may feel helpless when someone they know or care for is missing, the very best thing our communities can do is to be vigilant and report any possible sightings or information, however insignificant it may seem; such information really is invaluable to police and our partners.
A team effort - A look at the many resources drawn upon to help find missing people
Ever heard us refer to a FIM or the PSC and wondered what we meant? You won’t be the only one – we’re still trying to get our head around all the police jargon!
So, we thought we’d help by explaining what some of these commonly used acronyms stand for.
We work with a wide range of partners agencies to help ensure the safe return of missing persons and ensure their future wellbeing and safeguarding.
Whether you're concerned about about yourself or a loved one, many offer a wealth of help, support and information: