Child abductions up 45 per cent as detection rate drops

Child abductions and attempted abductions in England and Wales have risen in the past year by 45 per cent to a record 846 offences, police figures indicate.

Child abductions and attempted abductions in England and Wales have risen in the past year by 45 per cent to a record 846 offences, police figures indicate.

More than half of the cases involved abduction by strangers, challenging the widely held belief that most cases are "tug-of-love" battles between parents. The detection rate for child abductions fell from 50 per cent in the year to April 2002 to 37 per cent the following year.

Police identified a suspect in only 13 per cent of the attempted abductions by strangers, and in 54 per cent of successful abductions. In total there were 445 child victims of attacks by strangers.

The sharp rise has been partly attributed to new police recording systems. But Home Office researchers admit that the rise from 583 abduction cases in 2001-02 to 846 cases in 2002-03 "may provide a truer reflection of the extent of child abduction". Children's charity groups reacted with alarm. A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said: "This increase is very worrying. But we must all keep the threat of danger to children by strangers in context. The greatest danger to children still comes from people they know."

The research shows that child snatching is still an extremely rare crime. Sixty-eight children were successfully abducted by strangers in 2002-03, 9 per cent of the total cases. The average age of the victim was 10; about half were girls. Three-quarters were white.

In 155 cases of child abduction, resulting in 173 victims, there existed some form of relationship between the victim and the offender. This included "grooming" and exploitative relationships, which accounted for 77 victims. Four offences involved contact initiated over the internet.

Just over 60 per cent of the children were recovered within 24 hours of being taken. There was no information as to when the remaining 25 victims were recovered.

In a fifth of the cases the motive was clearly sexual, although researchers believe this is an underestimate.

The biggest rise during the past year was in failed attempted abduction by strangers. This category accounts for 377 victims or 47 per cent of the cases, but changes to the manner in which the police record crime are likely to have contributed to this increase. Some reports would previously have been recorded under different crime categories.

"The most common scenario in these cases [of attempted abduction] was a male offender attempting to entice a child into a car or physically attempting to drag a victim from a public place," said the report, "Child Abduction: Understanding Police Recorded Crime Statistics", by Geoff Newiss and Lauren Fairbrother.

Parents of abducted children were responsible for 23 per cent of cases, with some of victims being taken abroad. The average age of the 180 children snatched by a parent was six.

Just under half of the victims were from ethnic minority origins. "This reflects previous research which indicates that parental abduction of children is closely associated with partners from different nationalities, races or cultural backgrounds disputing the custody of their children," the report says.

Ninety per cent of abductions by parents were successful, with a similar proportion being solved by the police.

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