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‘Concerning race disparities in missing people cases must be addressed’

The responsible officer for the Police Race Action Plan has pledged to work to increase trust and confidence from minority ethnic communities.

Aine Fox
Tuesday 07 March 2023 00:01 GMT
Missing person (Alamy/PA)
Missing person (Alamy/PA)

A report into missing people has painted a “worrying picture” for black and Asian communities which must be urgently addressed, a charity has said.

The findings suggest black and Asian children are more likely to be missing for longer than white children, and that a lower proportion of missing incidents related to black and Asian people were resolved by the person being found by the police.

The report, by the charity Missing People, said those who have gone missing from black or Asian communities are also less likely to be recorded as being at risk due to their mental health or at risk of child sexual exploitation in some cases.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but we know these findings paint a worrying picture for black and Asian missing people which we must address urgently

Jo Youle, Missing People

It said efforts must be made to understand what is driving the “concerning” disparities and that the concern felt by those working with missing children or adults should “trigger action”.

In June last year the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) launched a Police Race Action Plan aimed at tackling discrimination, addressing unfairness in the way black people are treated, and boosting the number of black officers and staff.

NPCC lead for missing people, Deputy Chief Constable Catherine Hankinson, said they take the findings “incredibly seriously” and intend to work with the charity and others “to consider how best to collectively address concerns around bias and investigator training”.

The report’s findings, based on freedom of information requests to local authorities and police forces, showed that 20% of incidents related to black children were for longer than 48 hours, compared with 14% of incidents related to Asian children and 13% of incidents related to white children.

In missing people cases lasting longer than a week, 4% of incidents related to black children compared with 3% of incidents relating to Asian children and 1% of incidents relating to white children, the charity said.

For cases concerning black children, only 16% were resolved by the person being found by the police, compared with 19% of incidents related to Asian children and 23% of incidents related to white children, the report said.

The report, which looked at police and local authority data, found that, for the former, 9% of incidents related to missing white children had a mental health flag, compared with 4% for Asian children and 1% for black children.

When it came to local authority data, 19% of incidents for missing white children had a mental health flag, compared with about 11% for both Asian and black children, the report said.

Similarly, percentages were higher for white children when it came to child sexual exploitation flags – 14% in police data compared with 8% for both black and Asian children.

In local authority data, it was 11% for black children and about 15% for all other ethnicities.

But child criminal exploitation flags were higher for missing black children (25%) when it came to local authority data, compared with 20% for Asian children (20%) and 17% for white children, the report stated.

When it came to adults, the charity said its findings showed black adults were the most likely to be missing for more than 48 hours and more than seven days, and added that differences in the likelihood of mental health risk being recorded on a missing persons record also suggested that risk may be being under-identified for adults from black and Asian communities.

Jo Youle, chief executive of Missing People, said while it has been long known that black people are over‑represented in missing statistics there has been a lack of detail about the identities and experiences of different ethnic communities intersect.

She said: “The disparities that have been identified are concerning and we need to understand what is driving them. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we know these findings paint a worrying picture for black and Asian missing people which we must address urgently.

“This report will be hard for many to read, but can be a moment for change if we deliver a national, multiagency commitment to understanding the experiences of people from minority ethnic groups who go missing or have a loved one go missing, and to ending any discrimination in the response to those missing reports.

“This work could help to build trust within black and other ethnic minority communities, ensure communities receive an equitable response, and potentially reduce harm experienced by missing people.”

We are listening to the concerns raised about missing persons and taking a proactive approach, working with partners, to understand race disparities

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens

The charity has partnered with the consultancy Listen Up, to explore the experiences of black missing children.

Jahnine Davis, Listen Up’s chief executive said: “The statistics are alarming and highlight several issues which must be addressed.

“Given the findings, racial bias and wider forms of intersecting discrimination cannot be discounted as one of the underlying issues for such disparities to exist.

“Individuals and agencies must be willing to ask confronting questions, ‘what does vulnerability look like? Does it have an image? A race and ethnicity?’”

Among the recommendations in the report, Missing People calls for data on ethnicity and the missing to be collected and analysed nationally on an annual basis, and for all police forces and local authorities to review their own data in order to identify disproportionality and potential discriminatory practice in their area.

They add that their research should act as a “catalyst for a much bigger focus on people from different ethnicities’ experiences of, and reasons for, missing”, urging academics, the third sector and other agencies to conduct more research into this area.

Ms Hankinson said: “We recognise that some black, Asian and minority ethnic families have felt that their concerns over a missing family member were taken less seriously.

“We are working proactively, in partnership with the National Crime Agency, leading academics and the national charity Missing People, to understand any potential issues of disproportionality and discrimination.”

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens, senior responsible officer for the Police Race Action Plan, said he is pleased that forces had “been able to support this crucial piece of research” as he pledged to continue to work to increase trust and confidence from minority ethnic communities.

He said: “We are listening to the concerns raised about missing persons and taking a proactive approach, working with partners to understand race disparities and ensure that the service we provide to all ethnic communities is fair and equitable.”

Of the 45 police forces in the UK, 32 responded with data although not all could answer every question.

Of the 212 local authorities in the UK, 168 responded with data but there were some variations in what information they could provide.

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