Lost kids will be posted on the net

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The Independent Online

The faces of hundreds of missing children will be posted on the internet next week in a bid to tackle the rising tide of child-abductions.

The faces of hundreds of missing children will be posted on the internet next week in a bid to tackle the rising tide of child-abductions.

The site, www.missingkids. co.uk, will carry 2,000 pictures of children registered as missing in England and Wales along with mini-biographies detailing their age, height and where and when they were last seen.

The site will also be searchable, enabling people concerned about new children in their area to make checks. A Government spokesman said: "If you were suspicious about a child that seemed distressed across the road, you would be able to tap in a description and the site would find children fitting that description."

People will be encouraged to e-mail information about sightings to the relevant forces or contact their local police.

There were 21,735 reports of missing children in 1998 - the last year for which figures are available - according to the Metropolitan Police's Missing Persons Bureau. Last year there were 216 cases of child- abduction, involving 300 children, compared with just over 100 in 1990.

Among the hundreds of photographs on the new website will be Ben Needham, who disappeared nine years ago at the age of two while on holiday on the Greek island of Kos.

Police forces will be able to post pictures of missing children on site within minutes, giving instant access to the media, other forces here and abroad, and port authorities.

Had the system been in place when Ben Needham went missing, the Government believes it could have contributed to a co-ordinated worldwide search.

Although the Government stresses that the vast majority of missing children are reunited with their parents within 48 hours, it hopes the site's main benefit will be in tracking down children abducted by their own parents. At the moment, only the police national computer and the National Missing Persons Bureau hold information on children.

Charles Clarke, the Home Office minister, said: "It is hard to imagine what parents must go through when their children go missing. By using this new technology and working with the public, I hope the police are able to find more missing children and reunite them with their families." Ian Johnston, a Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, said: "I believe this website has the potential to become a beneficial tool."

A NSPCC spokesman also welcomed the idea: "This new approach will help the police and everybody in child protection to identify children who are vulnerable because they have run away from home. It is vital that we help these children before they are lured into prostitution or into the clutches of paedophiles."

Jim Reynolds, the former head of the Scotland Yard's paedophile unit, who has been running a pilot scheme in Hertfordshire, first saw the idea in action in the United States.

"It will be the first time that the police forces will be instantly able to transmit high- quality pictures all over England and Wales."

The website will be run by Hertfordshire police, but nine police force headquarters in England and Wales will also be able to place pictures and information on the site.