A senior officer at Yorkshire’s largest police force has warned that the service risks being overwhelmed by the number of missing persons it has to deal with after the number of cases rose by 25 per cent in a year.
An investigation found there were 24,653 reported cases across the region in the 12 months up to June 30 – the equivalent of 67 every day.
The number of people going missing has risen sharply West and South Yorkshire Police handled almost 19,000 of those cases between them, with one in four involving a child in care.
It is the apparent failure to stop children going repeatedly missing that is causing concern.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom of West Yorkshire Police said: “There can’t be a bigger crime issue than what’s going on here. Sitting behind it is the whole child sexual (CSE) exploitation issue.”
The link between CSE risk and children going missing is well documented, but these children are also some of the most challenging to support.
One 16-year-old girl in care, considered to be at risk from older men, is taking legal advice about her right to see who she wants.
Chief Superintendent Paul Money, Leeds Divisional Commander, said: “She’s still a child in the eyes of the law and certainly our focus is around safeguarding people like her and providing that general guardianship.”
The number of children in care going missing in Bradford has more than doubled, from 590 in 2014/15 to 1,303 in 2015/16.
And in neighbouring Leeds, there has been a 47 per cent rise. Yet neither authority seems to recognise a potential problem. Bradford Council said it had a “robust stance” in dealing with children reported missing. And Leeds City Council said it was effectively managing the issue strategically and on the ground.
But West Yorkshire Police Federation accused other agencies of passing their burden on by failing to stop people in their care going missing in the first place. Chairman Nick Smart said: “It’s pushing the service to breaking point.” Mr Milsom said: “Are the current care systems for vulnerable people, particularly vulnerable young people with CSE risk and people with mental health problems, under significant strain? Yes. Are the strains starting to show? Yes. Are the police going to be able to deal with it? We’re getting overwhelmed.”