Missing adults hide – but they don't run far

Most Britons who flee the pressures of everyday life stay close to home, researchers have found

Tens of thousands of "runaway" Britons who disappear every year stay within a few miles of their homes, according to the first study based on in-depth interviews with "missing" adults.

The research discovered that despite fleeing their homes and everyday lives – and often taking extreme measures to stay anonymous, such as changing their appearance, using false identification and avoiding CCTV cameras – runaways usually remained close to their original homes, where they felt more comfortable and less conspicuous than they would in an unfamiliar place. Most of them also chose to get about on foot, rather than by using cars or public transport.

The report, The Geographies of Missing People, is based on face-to-face interviews with 45 adults who went missing in London or Scotland between 2009 and 2011 and who either returned home voluntarily or were traced. It will be presented at an international conference on missing people to be held at Portsmouth University this week.

Experts from the universities of Glasgow and Dundee argue that the phenomenon of adults going missing has been under-researched – and that health and social services are failing to spot the triggers that can send vulnerable people over the edge. Their research shows why adults walk away from their lives, what they do when they are away, and why many of them finally decide to come home.

The reasons for going missing include "traumatic experiences and strong emotions of being unable to cope, [and] feeling trapped and powerless to talk about or share their feelings". Three-quarters of those who had gone missing were diagnosed with mental health problems, and one in three had attempted suicide while they were away.

Many missing adults gravitate towards railway stations and airports where they can hide in the crowds. And a third resort to sleeping rough – everywhere from derelict buildings and sheds to underpasses and railway stations.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, declares: "For the majority of adults, their journeys involved staying local and visiting familiar places. The risks for some adults was balanced by the recognition that: 'if I had gone somewhere I didn't know, it would have been a lot harder to get through the next few days because I wouldn't know where anything was'."

More than 215,000 people go missing in the UK each year. Two-thirds are aged 18 or under, but 36 per cent are adults. The report claims there is "no overall strategy to ensure the integration of policies and services for adult missing persons". The conference, organised by Portsmouth University, the charity Missing People, and the UK Missing Persons Bureau, aims to find better ways of tackling the problem by involving police, social service experts and academics.

Hester Parr of Glasgow University, one of the authors of the report, said: "There is stigma surrounding 'missing people' precisely because they are assumed to be a special group who do not return."

Dr Parr added: "We are all responsible for this neglect of people reported as missing. This research aims to intervene in this culture of silence and start a national conversation about missing experience."

The conference will also discuss topics including the sexual exploitation of young runaways, the links between mental health and going missing, and child abduction.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before