Going Missing is Not Illegal in the UK
There is no doubt that trying to find a missing person is a stressful and traumatic experience.
It may surprise you but it is not an offence for an adult to go missing.
Anyone above the age of 18 has the right to go missing, unless:
- Another person has legal responsibility for their care.
- The person got detained under the Mental Health Act.
As a rule, the police would not consider you to be in any serious trouble for going missing. But, an exception would apply if you committed a crime.
The local police will try to make contact with you if you get reported as missing. Their main role would be to check you are safe and not at any risk of any serious harm.
Several factors would determine the scale of the police missing person investigation procedure. They would assess your circumstances and try to ascertain what danger you may be in.
In most cases, the police will not force you to go back ‘home’. Instead, the principal aim of a search investigation is to make sure you are not at risk.
Report a Person Missing to Your Local Police
What should you do if someone goes missing in the United Kingdom or abroad? The first step is to contact anyone who may know their whereabouts (e.g. close friends and relatives). You should do this as soon as you think that a person is missing.
If that fails to reveal the whereabouts of the missing person, you should contact your local police force. You can either phone them or make a visit in person. Most police forces use the 101 non-emergency number in England and Wales.
The officers will want lots of details when you file a missing persons report. Give them as much information about the person who is missing, including.
- Their full name, date of birth, and the most recent photograph that shows their face.
- The contact details of their close friends and family relatives.
- Details of the places and the people they visit most often.
- A sample of their DNA (e.g. from a toothbrush or hairbrush).
- A physical description (e.g. what clothing and jewellery they were wearing) and whether they have a medical condition.
Note: Many people think they must wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person. In fact, this is not true. You can report a missing person to the police in the United Kingdom without delay. Dial 999 and ask for the police if you have serious concerns for the welfare of any person.
Police treat every report of a missing person seriously. The procedure they follow means they may want to search the home of the person who is missing. If so, they will ask a relative for permission before doing so.
Once the police record a person as missing, they share the details with other police forces in the United Kingdom. As a rule, this would take place within 24 to 48 hours.
When the Police Find a Missing Person
There is a specific procedure for knowing when someone is found after a disappearance. It would depend whether they were an adult or a child.
If the police find a person who is under the age of 18:
In most cases, they would inform the parents (or the guardians) of their whereabouts. An exception may apply if doing so would endanger the safety of the youngster.
The police would not usually pass on the whereabouts of a person they find if they are over 18 (unless they have their permission to do so).
UK Organisations that Help to Find Missing Persons
Some of the lifeline organisations you can contact include:
- UK Missing Persons Unit
- Look 4 Them
- Missing People (a registered charity in England and Wales)
People Missing Abroad
What should you do if you lose contact with someone while they are abroad?
If a person you know goes missing overseas you should contact:
- Your nearest police force. They will make contact with the police in the relevant country (via Interpol).
- The ‘Consular Protection’ department located at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [Tel: 020 7008 1500].
Note: You can also contact the charity ‘The Lucie Blackman Trust’.
How to Report the Sighting of a Missing Person
You can contact any police station if you identify a missing person and know their whereabouts. Or, you can also contact the registered charity called Missing People to report the sighting ‘anonymously’.
Police Missing Person Report Checklist
The UK Missing Persons Bureau is the national and the international point of contact. Read though the missing persons checklist to see what action you can take to help their search.
Note: You must contact the police if the person returns after you reported them missing. The police may want to see them to confirm that they are safe and well.