In classic and atrocious ‘bury bad news’ style, slipped through on Budget Day, with appalling irony the very day after the Railway Children Downing Street reception, was the announcement that there’s now a new category for ‘missing people’, where the police won’t be getting involved (follow this link to read the Guardian report). Apparently there’s an option to be ‘absent’, usually applied when someone doesn’t arrive at a place where they are expected to be. These cases – which are estimated to be around a third of all current ‘missing’ reports – will not be investigated by the police unless there is ‘a genuine reason for believing they are missing’.
If my thirteen-year-old – and 13-15 is the most common age for running away – didn’t arrive where they were meant to arrive, allowing for a margin of, say, transport error, without phone contact, I would say that means they’re missing. I’m not being simplistic, I merely believe that this is not an issue where we can play with semantics. Missing children is not a press release to be tactically released when the nation’s attention is elsewhere, or an authority’s side-step.
For a start, there is universal agreement that the first 24 hours following a disappearance is crucial in finding the missing person. If a very young person – and despite society’s apparent attempts to persuade them to the contrary, a 13-year-old is a very young person – is classed as ‘absent’ not ‘missing’, and you miss that 24 hours, what happens in the terrible tragic cases where ‘absent’ turns to ‘missing’, and the golden window of opportunity is lost? Bad enough for any missing person, but for such vulnerable individuals, it’s unforgivable.
This is not a criticism of our police force, far from it. I believe the police work incredibly hard and are committed to doing the right thing, but equally I believe that the appalling budgetary pressure they, like all our public sector organisations, are currently under is forcing them to decide the undecidable. There can be no right answer if there isn’t the money to fund a service but yet that service must carry on. Hence announcements such as this one.
It is news such as this which emphasises how much needed Railway Children and its grass-roots partners are. It also emphasises the need for influential big business – such as Railway Children’s brilliant partners Aviva; and influential individuals, such as Mrs Cameron, to not only be involved and generate funding but to speak out and throw their weight and their press access behind a cause like this one. If society is no longer able or (God forbid) willing to take up the mantle for the missing, it feels like there is a moral obligation for others to take their place.