Tracking down missing people

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SOMEONE is reported missing in Hartlepool almost every day.

Such cases are one of the police force’s main priorities, as they can be a matter of life and death.

Detective Chief Inspector Jon Green, of Hartlepool Police, told the Mail: “Accidents do happen to people, but we must always presume there is a criminal element behind it as most murder inquiries start as a missing from home.

“But there are many reasons why people go missing. Some simply turn up within hours, while others are wanting to start a new life and want to sever all ties with their past.

“There are also those with problems, whether they be financial or emotional, and then the issue of self-harm is an element.”

Every person reported missing is given a ranking – high, low or medium risk – depending on their circumstances.

If someone sends a text message to a family member saying they are going to harm themselves it would go down as high, where as someone who has a lifestyle that sees them often go unseen for a couple of days would be low.

Uniform response officers deal with most initial reports but Hartlepool CID, the town’s team of detectives, are informed about the more worrying cases.

The first port of call for officers is the family of those missing, as they know most about the person and have often done their own inquiries before alerting the police.

Det Chf Insp Green said: “It’s about understanding who they are and what they are about.”

Officers look at whether they have a car and access to money, if they have connections elsewhere, if there are places they often visit and what kind of routine they have.

Technology is also playing a bigger part, with mobile phones being used to find out when and where people have been and social networking internet sites checked for any details.

Det Chf Insp Green said the online investigations are becoming a vital tool, particularly if it is someone under 17 and there could be a grooming risk.

Security cameras are also used to try and spot those missing or to confirm any sightings, while the media is said to play a key role in getting pictures and appeals out to the public.

Det Chf Insp Green added: “In Hartlepool, there are around half-a-dozen missing people reports a week. The majority are found in a matter of hours.

“We interview all people that are found to find out where they have been and keep the information on record for future reference. If they are an adult, are safe and well and do not want people to know where they have been, then we are obliged not to tell anyone.

“There are children who go missing quite frequently for many reasons. There’s a danger that you can become blasè about that, but you have to remember they are still kids and are vulnerable.

“They may not mean any harm, but they can get into situations that can lead to much more serious things, particularly if they are a girl, so it is important we treat every case the same.”

And he is urging anyone concerned about someone’s whereabouts to ring the police and not wait.

He said: “Some people seem to think you have to wait 24 hours or some period of time, but you don’t. It’s a myth that may have come from American TV.

“The circumstances surrounding every new case are different. We have people reported missing straight away that go straight down as high risk as there may be a suicide risk, and some who have only been reported after a few days but are counted as low risk because of their lifestyle.

“Either way the sooner we get to know, the sooner we can start trying to find them.”

Hartlepool Police can be contacted on (01642) 326326.