By Tariq Tahir
Changes to the way police deal with missing people could lead to vulnerable children being more at risk of sex abuse, a charity has claimed.
Some 327,000 people are reported missing each year, two-thirds of whom are children and chief constables say dealing with every one the same way is a drain on their resources.
From next month there will be a new two tier approach and police will launch a full investigation only for people whose disappearance is out of character or who are thought to be at risk.
But David Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC, said the children’s charity fears the new definitions could put children at risk.
‘We are very concerned that the new definition of ‘missing persons’ will put vulnerable children at risk of being groomed and sexually exploited,’ he said.
‘The length of time a child goes missing is irrelevant because they can fall into the clutches of abusers very quickly.
‘Children go missing for a variety of reasons; they may be bullied, abused or are generally unhappy. But whatever the reason, this problem must be taken seriously.
‘We expect all professionals including the police to invest the right amount of time and take the necessary action to protect all children as soon as they go missing.’
The Association of Chief Police Officers hopes the new policy will cut bureaucracy and stop officers from being seen as ‘taxi drivers’ sent to collect runaway children who regularly abscond.
In the sex abuse Rochdale case, nine men were jailed in May last year for grooming and abusing vulnerable teenage girls many of whom had gone missing from care.
Chief Constable Pat Geenty said: ‘The police are often the first agency to take a missing person report and our aim is to ensure we get the best possible response to those most at risk of harm.
‘This means identifying these cases early so that policing resources go where they are most needed. We need to move beyond a one-size-fits-all response.’