When Someone Goes Missing

Missing Persons

The idea of someone ‘going missing’ is highly distressing. For someone to be designated as ‘missing,’ someone else must be moved enough by their disappearance to be looking for them; someone else notes their absence and wants to find them. It indicates a connection that has been broken and a desire to restore it, on the part of at least one of the parties involved. It also indicates a troubling lack of information and a situation clouded with uncertainty – all of which can be deeply unnerving to those with connections to the situation.

There have been several high profile missing person cases discussed in the media recently, including the new, tragically resolved cases of Sarah Everard and Richard Okorogheye, along with the historical, unresolved mysteries of Claudia Lawrence and Suzy Lamplugh – current events, and poignant anniversaries. But, alongside these sadly renowned cases, there are countless others that are largely unseen by the media; cases in which people are still looking for answers about what happened to their missing person.

It is always difficult to accurately gauge the incidence of something like disappearance because statistics rely on such events being reported. We know, for example, that UK police forces recorded 399,100 missing-related calls from 2019-2020[1], but we don’t know how many people also disappeared in instances that did not result in a call being made to the police, for one reason or another.

That is a frightening number of calls to the police about missing people but, even allowing for those instances that are not reported, this does not provide the full, realistic picture. While the number of reports is important, it is also vital to factor in the case resolution rate, or the length of time a person is officially ‘missing.’ The national UK charity Missing People reports that, on average, of the estimated 76,000 children reported missing every year, only two per cent of them are missing for more than a week. Of the estimated 100,000 adults reported missing every year, that percentage is estimated as five[2].

What does ‘missing’ mean?

When we hear the words ‘missing person,’ our minds invariably speed to the most notorious of cases, such as Madeleine McCann – dramatically vanished from the holiday apartment bedroom she shared with siblings. While the most publicised cases often involve the possibility of crime, other causes are equally likely for the majority of less publicised cases – if not more so. Common reasons for a disappearance can include:

  • Domestic conflict – This can involve anything from teenage personality clashes to domestic or sexual abuse, which makes this among the most complex categories of causation. The nature of the domestic conflict can provide perspective on the motivations of both the person that has disappeared, and the person trying to find them. In other words, in the case of disappearance caused by domestic conflict, it is vital to establish whether the missing person is at risk of harm by being missing, or whether they have escaped harm by leaving. From the perspective of the authorities, people missing from abusive environments are likely to be considered vulnerable, and in need of support, regardless of the origin of the abuse.
  • Exploitation – The risk of exploitation can impact anyone, but is a particular issue for vulnerable groups, such as young people. It can take many forms, and can involve grooming, sexual or criminal exploitation, or various types of modern slavery. The disappearance of a person who has been subject to exploitation can indicate either escape from an exploitative situation, or the further involvement in exploitative activities. In any case, the disappearance of a vulnerable person is cause for concern, and warrants investigation.
  • Mental health issues – A wide variety of mental health issues – both diagnosed and undiagnosed – can contribute to a person going missing. In some cases, this can then become a safeguarding issue, with different degrees of risk involved.
  • Dementia – Adults with dementia account for a significant number of missing-related reports. During periods of confusion, an adult with dementia may return to locations with which they have a strong past connection, such as former family homes. People with dementia are especially vulnerable.
  • Financial problems – Money worries and debt can be a trigger for a person going missing. They might be trying to hide from debtors, conceal their predicament from their loved ones, or protect those closest to them from the reality of the situation. The vulnerability of a person who has disappeared following financial problems depends on their health and the nature and context of the financial issues.
  • Homelessness – In February 2021, The Big Issue reported that an estimated 280,000 people were homeless in England during December 2019[3]. The term ‘homeless’ includes rough sleeping, as well as people living in temporary accommodation, shelters or hostels. These types of living situation can increase the vulnerabilities and risks that often lead to people going missing, but can also make it difficult to keep track of people – leading to missing persons reports.

While the official definition of ‘missing person’ differs between Scotland, and England and Wales, the College of Policing states that “Anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established will be considered missing until located, and their well-being otherwise confirmed.” In dealing with missing persons reports, the formal police approach is generally to apply a risk assessment and response protocol to the case. Trained officers determine whether there is no apparent risk, low risk, medium risk, or high risk, and designate resources accordingly.

The question then becomes, what options remain for those people trying to find a missing person, when the police are unable to deploy resources to find them? An official assessment that determines there to be low or no apparent risk does not alleviate the pain and heartache for those left behind, wondering whether their loved one is safe and well. The absence of police involvement does not need to mean that the search comes to an end, however.

The Private Investigation option

The U.K police force has finite resources, so it is reasonable for them to use a specific framework to determine which of the 399,100 missing persons calls they receive each year warrant the deployment of staff and technology. Moreover, there are undoubtedly a large number of missing persons cases that are entirely unreported. This might be because they are historical, or fraught with complex issues. It might be because the loved ones of the missing person have assumed the police would be unable to help. Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t make the case any less important and, whether the police are investigating or not, those loved ones may well seek to make their own enquiries.

Engaging the services of a reputable Private Investigation firm is an advisable, viable option for those trying to locate an individual who is missing – even in those cases where time has already been spent on the task. Indeed, there is often value in having a new and objective team examine the details of a case, because a fresh perspective can provide insight into unexplored connections. A team of highly trained operatives, such as OpSec Solutions, can deploy cutting edge technology and finely honed strategies to find a missing person, regardless of the risk profile associated with their disappearance. There are several benefits to this course of action:

  • Communication – As a privately hired organisation, a Private Investigation team will ensure that you are regularly updated with the necessary information about the case. When a person is missing, the lack of detail about their situation and circumstance can be the most worrying and upsetting issue. Professional, experienced Private Investigators will be keenly aware of this, and will work to provide you with clear and detailed evidence regarding the whereabouts of the person in question.
  • Practical and technical expertise – Professional Private Investigators, including OpSec Solutions, are specifically trained and experienced in tracing missing persons. With personnel drawn from military, police, and corporate backgrounds, these teams of experts are able to liaise with council and government agencies as well as private individuals and corporate entities around the U.K, in order to track a person down. In conjunction with these strategies, Private Investigators use the latest software to find and follow the digital footprint of the missing person, often narrowing down the search quickly and efficiently, thereby increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome.
  • Confidentiality – The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a person are often highly sensitive, and professional Private Investigators keep this uppermost in their minds as they pursue the case. Discretion is key at all times, and the protection of privacy is the highest priority. This includes cases in which it is necessary to trace an individual without them being alerted to the fact that a search is underway.

OpSec Solutions is highly experienced in the field of tracing missing persons and has a proven track record of delivering actionable results quickly, and with the utmost discretion. With accreditations from the Association of British Investigators, the Professional Investigators Network, and the Institute of Professional Investigators, this team of professionals can provide a bespoke service that accommodates the needs of your case, without incurring any hidden costs. Get in touch today to find out how OpSec Solutions can help.


[1] https://www.missingpersons.police.uk/en-gb/resources/downloads/missing-persons-statistical-bulletins

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

[3] https://www.bigissue.com/latest/social-activism/how-many-people-are-homeless-in-the-uk-and-what-can-you-do-about-it/

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