Six months after Madeleine, another 600 are still missing

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The Independent Online

As a new photograph was issued to mark the disappearance six months ago of Madeleine McCann, charities last night urged the public not to forget the other children who have disappeared from their homes in Britain since last May.

Church services were held on the Algarve and in Britain last night to mark Madeleine's disappearance, as her parents launched a new appeal as part of a worldwide media campaign.

Kate and Gerry McCann attended a vigil at St Mary and St John church near their home in Rothley, Leicestershire.

But, as the search for Madeleine showed new momentum with a private investigator hired by her family promising to find the four-year-old within five months, missing persons charities yesterday released figures showing that more than 600 children have been missing in the UK for as long as Madeleine McCann, and are still unaccounted for.

Among the children, some as young as 12, are dozens who have disappeared from local authority care, while scores of others have been identified by police and immigration officers as trafficking victims.

Many have no parents to launch an appeal, few have gained media attention and none on the scale devoted to the McCann case. Figures show that of 9,000 children reported missing in the UK in the past six months, 600 have yet to be found.

Charities have today launched an alert about 40 "high-risk" children they have concerns about including some who went missing during the same month as Madeleine. Among them is Skylar Russell, a 13-year-old who went missing from Craven Arms in Shropshire more than a month ago. She is believed to have travelled to London with her friend Chloe Baker and may be in Tottenham or Enfield, north London.

Sirad Ahmed, a 12-year-old originally from Somalia, went missing from her home in Enfield on 16 October. Her parents are said to be desperately worried, not least because of her age, and believe she may also be in the Tottenham area.

The biggest UK charity dealing with missing children said that the families of all the children who have gone missing in the past six months were suffering "agony and a sense of not knowing". Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Missing People, added: "In the UK each year 140,000 children are reported missing. We cannot forget these other young people and their families who are also left in limbo."

Andrew Gosden, 14, disappeared seven weeks ago after withdrawing £200 from his bank account. A high achiever at school, who likes Goth-style clothing, he is thought to have been in London without a mobile phone and has had no contact with friends or family. Andrew's parents have travelled to London each weekend to distribute posters of him.

Andrew is one of the higher-profile missing children but there is little known, about some 100 foreign children who are thought to have been trafficked into Britain and disappeared from local authority care.

A government report found that half of all children trafficked into Britain and taken into care have disappeared. New figures obtained by the Conservative MP Anthony Steen last week show that in the past year, 120 children disappeared from care homes near Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Most of the children speak no English and some are as young as nine.

Charities working with such children fear that most fall back into the hands of traffickers and are sold as domestic slaves in Britain and abroad.

Christine Beddoe, director of End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (EcPat) said: "I think it is scandalous that so many children go missing with no attention because they are foreign and there is no parental responsibility," she said.