University of Dundee University of Dundee
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4 February 2011

Researchers seek to understand experiences of missing people

A project which aims to increase understanding of why adults go missing, where they go and how searches are carried out is being undertaken by a team of researchers from the University of Glasgow, University of Dundee and Grampian Police.

The 'Geographies of Missing People' project is being conducted in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service and Grampian Police and aims to examine the scope and capabilities of organisations to track missing adults, investigate the experiential geographies of those who go missing, and advance policy and operational understandings of 'missingness'.

Dr Hester Parr, a Reader in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, who is leading the project said: 'There have been relatively few studies of 'going missing', and these are mostly orientated towards younger people who are estimated to make up two-thirds of missing episodes per year. Our study is different: it’s on adult missing people’.

'Grampian Police have developed quantitative models of missing people, so for example, if a 40-year-old man goes missing they have a spatial model which dictates the size of the search area and likely locations where he might be found.'

'But research to date has not looked at qualitative information - in other words, the way people use space, the types of places they seek out and their experiences of them.

'Consequently, there is a general lack of information about adults who go missing and their spatial experiences, especially as articulated through the voices of 'returned' missing people.

Grampian Police Assistant Chief Constable Colin Menzies (also Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) lead for Missing Persons) states 'Missing People represent a significant challenge for the police due to the volume of cases and the potential risks missing people face. Building on the work we have already conducted, this new qualitative research will significantly add to our knowledge of missing person behaviour and support how we approach missing persons operationally.'

Hester Parr highlights that 'A range of research questions exist: What led to the disappearance? Why did they leave? Where did the person go? How did the police and other agencies respond and what type of search was carried out? ‘How does the family cope with being left behind? What happens when and if missing people come back?

'These are the questions that lie at the heart of this research which we intend to gain insight into to help support police and other organizations tasked with finding missing people at a strategic and operational level.'

The project will involve interviews with police to gain understanding into how missing person cases are dealt with, interviews with people have gone missing in the past but who have returned and to family members of people who have gone missing.

Around 300,000 people go missing every year in the UK - but about 75% return after three days.

Other members of the project team include Professor Nick Fyfe, of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research and Dundee University; Dr Penny Woolnough, Grampian Police; and Dr Olivia Stevenson, research fellow at the University of Glasgow.

The project, which is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, runs for three years.

For more information contact Stuart Forsyth in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 4831 or email

Contact points
Dr Hester Parr (8.45am-4pm): (01413305291 or 07910158562)

Prof Nicholas Fyfe: (07866 980088)

Dr Penny Woolnough (01330 850492)

For media enquiries contact:
Roddy Isles
Head, Press Office
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
TEL: 01382 384910
MOBILE: 07800 581902