BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Keeping open the cases of missing people
6:00pm Tuesday 14th January 2014 in News
CHARITY WORK: Rachel Elias’ involvement with the charity Missing People helped her after the disappearance of her brother, Manic Street Preachers star Richey Edwards
High profile cases of missing Gwent people have hit the headlines in recent weeks - including the disappearances of Newport teenager Nida Naseer and Newport dad Ben Caplan. NATHAN BRIANT examines how police and charities help families caught in limbo in the most difficult of circumstances.
THE vast majority of the 250,000 people who go missing across the UK every year are found safe and well shortly after their disappearance has been reported.
Only last week, the South Wales Argus reported a 22-year-old man had gone missing in Duffryn, Newport, only for him to be found safe and well at nearby Tredegar House a few hours later after police helicopters had been called out to search for him.
But the experience can be traumatic for family and friends of those who disappear.
According to a Freedom of Information request returned at the start of December, Gwent Police were looking for 29 people who had gone missing. The longest unresolved case, a 20-year-old woman who went missing in Newport, has been open for 46 years and seven months. Of those people who were reported missing in that period, the youngest was a four-month-old baby boy from Abergavenny; the oldest was a 93-year-old man from Pontypool.
A Gwent Police spokesman said the force receives reports of about eight people going missing every day.
He said: “When people are reported missing to us, we have a responsibility and duty of care to do what we can to find them. Risk assessments are made by officers based on the circumstances and details are circulated to all operational officers. Officers also consider circulating to the other UK police forces if we have information that suggest that the missing person may have left the Gwent area.
“Whatever the reason or background, when a person goes missing, relatives and friends are often left desperate for news that they are safe and well. Our officers provide the families with regular updates and sometimes depending on the circumstances a dedicated single point of contact.”
Police must decide on a case-by-case basis whether it is appropriate to issue a public appeal. The spokesman said appeals can “sometimes prove very helpful”, but that it is important to “balance the decision to make a public appeal with someone’s right to privacy”.
Of the 2,934 people reported missing from Gwent to police between October 2012 and November 2013, four remain missing. They regularly receive press attention. Kyle Vaughan, the Newbridge man who went missing and is the subject of a murder investigation, is one particularly high-profile Gwent missing person.
But perhaps the most high-profile case in the past 20 years has been the disappearance of Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards. His disappearance hit his sister Rachel Elias hard.
Richey, from Blackwood, disappeared from London on February 1, 1995, at the age of 27. He was due to attend press interviews with fellow band mate James Dean Bradfield, and go on a US tour, but his car was found near the Severn Bridge and there have been no confirmed sightings of him since.
Mrs Elias said: “Because he went missing in London and then he briefly returned to his flat (in Cardiff) and he was from Gwent he fell within the conjunction of three police forces. There was a lot of miscommunication; we didn’t really know who to turn to in the police and I hope that’s changed.”
Not only was she faced with the difficulty of coping with her brother’s continued disappearance, there were other practical things that had to be dealt with. Her brother still had bills to pay and his flat to care for.
The Edwards family could only properly deal with his business when Mr Edwards was declared legally dead in November 2008.
Mrs Elias said: “People don’t really like the presumption of death but how I always kept thinking is that it’s only the end of his financial affairs.”
But she said the Government’s Presumption of Death Act 2013 has made it easier for people whose relatives are thought to have died to control the practicalities of their missing relative’s life.
She found her involvement with the charity, Missing People, provided some comfort and is regularly involved with its events and is in regular contact with other missing people’s relatives.
Dealing with her brother’s disappearance only gets harder, she said. “And I think that’s why the charity’s good because you get to know other families who have gone missing longer than Richard. Although everyone’s story is different, everyone feels the same.”
It started as the Missing Persons Helpline in April 1993 by friends of Suzy Lamplugh’s mother. Ms Lamplugh, a 25-year-old estate agent, who went missing from Fulham, west London, in July 1986. She has never been found.
It offers free 24 hours confidential support, help and advice by phone, e-mail, text and online methods. It also coordinates a UK-wide network of people to search for the people who go missing across the country ever year. It tries to support missing children and provide support for the families of people who have gone missing.
An up-to-date map of missing people is kept on their website and contains people from Gwent. One case is that of James Nutley, from Caldicot who disappeared on a golf trip to Tenby in October 2004 and has not been seen since.
And still more tools are being developed to solve the cases of missing people around the UK.
The UK Missing Person Bureau was launched in November 2011. It provides support and advice to police forces across the UK’s police forces to resolve missing person cases and helps with identification. It also maintains a central national database of missing people and cases which remain unresolved.
It holds records of about 1,000 people who are still missing – some of those have been missing for over 70 years. Distinguishing features, such as clothing, jewellery and photographs are listed on the site in the hope that someone might visit the site and that something jogs their memory.
The Missing Persons Bureau’s tactical analyst, Sherri Latham, said in November on the one year anniversary of the site’s launch: “We developed the site in consultation with the families of missing persons to ensure we were dealing with the subject matter in a thoughtful and sensitive way, but we still had concerns before launch about the public response to such an emotive area of work.
“These turned out to be unfounded as people embraced what we were doing and really understood and supported the true purpose of the site. The number of visitors to the site over the past year has been much higher than we could have predicted.”
It has resolved cases around the country. It received a telephone call from someone who thought someone featured on the website might be his brother, who was last seen in 1994. The brother was able to give over fingerprints, fingerprints were taken from a body that had been found and the coroner confirmed they belonged to a missing person.
For some people who have to go through the agony of knowing someone who has gone missing, closure like that acts as some relief.
* The charity Missing People can be contacted on 116 000. Also see: missingpeople.org.uk
Missing people in Gwent
SEARCHES were carried out last week for missing Newport 18-year-old Nida Naseer, who disappeared from her home while putting out the bins on December 28.
Appeals for help in tracing her have been made in the city's Asian community, and across the media.
South Wales Argus worker Ben Caplan went missing on December 7 on a night out in Caerleon to celebrate his 30th birthday.
Sporting clubs have made appeals to fans to help, posters have been placed around the city, and searches have been carried out in Caerleon and Newport.
Kyle Vaughan, 24, from Newbridge was last seen on December 30 2012 and his damaged car was later found abandoned. His family have made a number of appeals for help, and recently staged a walk to mark the anniversary of his disappearance. Gwent Police have launched a murder inquiry.
James Nutley disappeared on October 24, 2004, not returning to his hotel after a night out on a golf tour in Tenby. Searches were made of the coastline, and his parents made a number of appeals, but there have been ni sightings of him since.
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