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Four reasons a person goes missing

Four reasons persons go missing. 


Initial enquiries should extend to provide supervisors ability to evaluate likely circumstances of person being missing.


Officers must first look at the circumstances surrounding the disappearance. There are generally four reasons for someone being reported missing: 


Lost Person – this is a person who is temporarily disorientated and wishes to be found (e.g, someone who has been out walking in the countryside, taken a wrong turn and no longer knows where they are). 


Missing Person who is voluntarily missing – this is someone who has control over their actions and who has decided upon a course of action (e.g., wishes to leave home, unauthorised absence from a Care Home, or to commit suicide). 


Missing Person who may be under the influence of a third party – someone who is missing against their will (e.g. possible abduction, or murder victim). 


Missing Person due to accident, injury or illness - examples are someone who has met with a sudden illness such as a stroke, someone wandering off due to a mental condition such as dementia, or struck by a ‘hit and run’ vehicle and now lying in a ditch.

During the initial stages of an enquiry, it is often impossible to decide which of these four outcomes might account for a person’s disappearance. Initial actions may be to commence investigations with a view to exploring all four possibilities. A combination of careful witness interviewing and intelligence-led enquiries will often permit officers to quickly eliminate some of the four possible outcomes, thereby focusing the enquiry on the scenarios which most likely account for the person’s disappearance. This is called scenario based searching.


Think about the person


No two missing people are the same. Consequently, it is vital to find out as much about the missing person as possible before initiating a particular response. Approximately 80% of adults who go missing are known to have some form of mental illness at the time. These illnesses range from mild depression to severe psychosis. The mental state of the missing person is likely to have a significant impact on their behaviour. It is extremely important, therefore, to establish the exact mental condition suffered by the missing person. 


Note: It is not sufficient to simply establish the Section of the Mental Health Act they are being detained or treated under. 


It is essential that officers have an understanding of the probable behaviour a missing person suffering from a particular mental illness is likely to display.