'Deeply worrying' rise in number of missing people found dead

A steep rise has taken place in the number of missing people being found dead, according to new research.

More than 1,000 of those going off-radar lost their lives in the UK between 2021 and 2022, the disturbing report shows.

The number equates to a 40% rise in the number of deaths over five years, according to the Missing People charity.

The organisation also gave the first insight into the cause of death, compiling data obtained by Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to 11 police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The most common reason was suicide, either known or suspected, which accounted for almost half (49%) of the fatalities.

Karen Bone’s son Matt was found dead in 2020, two years after he went missing. Karen, from Waterlooville in Hampshire, gave Metro.co.uk an insight into the uncertainty and grief behind the figures as she recalled her son’s disappearance in March 2018.

‘Your immediate reaction is that there is a simple reason for your loved one going missing.’ she said.

‘The last time we saw our son was when he was walking down the street, it was just after the Beast from the East had hit and he was only wearing a jumper, he had a small rucksack and he didn’t take a coat.

‘Once I realised he was not going to come back that evening I started to think about it logically and I looked around the house and saw he hadn’t taken a phone or much in the way of money.

‘That’s when the panic sets in and as much as your heart says he loves you and he’ll come back, you also know it’s a difficult world out there, with some of the pressures on Matt and on young people in general.

‘Matt was deeply passionate and at the same time anxious about environmental issues, which was one of the things playing on his mind and along with the social media pressures it all got too much for him.’

After going missing Matt, who was aged 26, checked into a hospital near his family home in Widlow, Hampshire, where he was treated for dehydration, before travelling to the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire.

He booked into a hotel in the area five days after leaving home, with his body found in a nearby field two years later. West Mercia Police said at the time that the death was not being treated as suspicious.

A coroner recorded the cause as unexplained and Matt’s family believe that he may have decided to sleep outdoors and succumbed to hypothermia.

Matt, who had been studying for a PhD in environmental science, had been given a clean bill of health after a mental health assessment at the hospital.

However Karen, 60, believes that in hindsight more could have been done to prevent her son falling off the radar.

‘The different agencies need to be aware of each other and to do handovers at the appropriate time,’ she said.

‘Our regrets are not kicking and screaming when Matt was given a clean bill of health at the mental health assessment and not knowing about Missing People until three weeks after he went missing. There needs to be more focus on the early recognition of the mental health issues that are sadly so prevalent among young people and providing the resources to prevent other families going through what we have experienced.’

Missing People’s figures indicate that troubled minds are a key factor behind the rise in deaths. When the ‘unknown’ cause is removed from the figure, two-thirds of deaths (66%) were because of known or suspected suicide.

Overall, the charity sent FoI requests to 27 police forces, which accounted for the rise of 1,000 persons, but not all the responses gave the cause.

Jane Hunter, Missing People’s head of research and impact, said: ‘These new figures indicate a deeply worrying rise in deaths.

‘And behind each figure is a loved one. Around 170,000 people are reported missing each year in the UK, many of them more than once.

‘This is a significant issue and means that someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. Going missing is a crisis.

‘The tragic pattern of people reported missing who are suicidal is a stark reminder that people need the right help – and hope – at the right time.

‘This is even more essential during the current cost of living crisis.

‘More awareness and understanding are so desperately needed. People are going missing every day. They need professionals to join the dots.

‘They need to know services like Missing People exist. That support could find them – and could help save them.’

The charity anticipates that forthcoming figures from the National Crime Agency’s UK Missing Persons Unit will be consistent with its research.

On Monday, the government announced a new strategy, comprised of 100 measures, to reduce England’s suicide rate within two and a half years.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the NHS had already set out an ambition to grow the mental health workforce by 73% before 2036.

A government spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘Every suicide is a tragedy and has a devastating, enduring impact on families and communities.

‘We’re working hard to reduce the number of suicides, and this week published our new Suicide Prevention Strategy, which commits to more than 100 measures, including a focus on prevention and earlier intervention as well as more targeted and proactive support for people in crisis.

Last month, the government also launched a £10 million fund for the voluntary sector in England to carry out crucial work to save lives.

‘And we’re investing £2.3 billion extra a year into mental health services to help an additional two million people access NHS-funded mental health support by 2024.’

*£11.53 could help Missing People answer a call from someone in crisis. Donate at www.missingpeople.org.uk/donate

If you are missing, or affected by a disappearance, you can text or call Missing People on 116 000.

It is free, confidential and non-judgemental.

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact [email protected]

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