Ann Coffey



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Campaigning children’s MP Ann Coffey has expressed delight that a controversial police recording system for missing children – described as a ‘catastrophe waiting to happen’ – has been scrapped.

Ms Coffey, who is chair of the All Party Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, had persistently slammed the system introduced in 2013 because it left children in grave danger.

Under the two tier system, children were classed as either ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ – but crucially only a child classed as missing received an active police response.Last year an inquiry by the All Party Group into the safeguarding of “absent” children recommended the recording system should be abandoned because it left at least 10,000 children a year at ‘terrible risk’.

The report cited cases of children, who were classed as ‘absent’ and had gone off the radar, but who had, in fact, been groomed for sexual exploitation or forced to run drugs across County Lines

Now the College of Policing has issued new guidance which scraps the absent category in favour of a new system where all children will be classed as missing and will be assessed for levels of risk ranging from ‘no apparent risk’ through to high risk cases that require immediate action.

Today Ms Coffey addressed the Missing Persons Conference 2017 in the House of Commons attended by 300 delegates. The conference on ‘Improving the Response to Missing Persons’,  was also addressed by Chief Constable Mike Veale, the National Police Chiefs‘ Council Lead on Missing. He also welcomed the scrapping of the absent category and the re-introduction of one definition of missing and said a letter had gone out today (11/01/2017) to all Chief Constables outlining the changes.

Ms Coffey said: “I am delighted the absent category has been scrapped because it did not safeguard children. Our inquiry found that some children had been recorded as ‘absent’ between 11 and 137 times despite many of them being at risk of child sexual exploitation and of being groomed by criminal gangs to run drugs.

“We heard of one mother whose daughter was classed as absent and so there was no police response. The mum was left alone to cope and so drove around all night long frantically looking for her daughter.

“Many ‘absent’ children were going completely off the radar and this was a catastrophe waiting to happen. It was introduced to save police time but has turned out to be a blunt crude assessment tool that leave children who are regularly classed as absent in danger of sexual exploitation and of being groomed by criminal gangs.”

Ms Coffey told the conference that there was still a need for better data sharing amongst the police children services and other agencies and for the introduction of a national data base for missing people.

“We are not making the most of the digital revolution to share intelligence,” she said.

For further information contact Joy Copley: 07786 357145