Eye On Wales Update: Missing Persons

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Welsh families of the long-term missing could be given fresh hope as the Westminster government prepares to establish a task-force to look at ways of improving the support on offer to them.

At present, hard and fast figures for the long-term missing are difficult to come by. So can be help and support for those left behind - often leading them to turn detective.

When the Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards went missing in February 1995, aged just 27, his sister Rachel Elias took it upon herself to try and find answers to the mystery of his disappearance.

After Richey's car was found at a service station next to the original Severn Bridge, Rachel contacted coroners on either side of the river to see if they had any unidentified bodies that might be her brother's.

That line of inquiry draw a blank - as did the many reported sighting of Richey over the years. But from her Blackwood home, Rachel never gave up the search for answers, a search which eventually led her to see if DNA might unlock the truth.

"It was actually ten years later, I approached the police myself because I had seen something on a missing person programme. We'd never been offered that before," she told Eye on Wales.

"I took a travel case of his to the police and a full DNA sample was obtained by the Forensic Science Service from a hairbrush that had been kept in a cupboard for ten years."

"I was annoyed that it had taken that long to obtain the analysis. I understand his dental records were obtained fairly quickly after he went missing - but in terms of the DNA, that wasn't until ten years later."

A recent re-vamping of the national Missing Persons Bureau following its move from the control of the Met to the National Policing Improvement Agency has led to improvements in the way the police deal with such inquiries.

But Gwent Chief Inspector Huw Nicholas - who leads on missing people for the four Welsh police forces - admits that more still can be done to help the families left behind.

"It will be naïve of me to say we are very good at any particular area because there's always room for improvement and each year brings us new understanding."

"We are far better now at understanding why people go missing and working with those agencies that are well-placed to deal with them - with local authorities, social services, other forces."

"Those sorts of things maybe didn't happen so many years ago, but now we've recognised the need for that, we've recognised the importance and vulnerability of missing people and it is step by step improvement."

Recognition of that need to raise the priority given to the missing now extends to the politicians. The Westminster government is setting up a cross-departmental task-force led by a minister to look ways of improving the support on offer.

It's a development that is welcomed by Lucy Holmes of the charity Missing Persons.

"We're very keen to see that resourcing is on the agenda for that group. Investment in the issue of missing is relatively small, compared to what is required. We would hope that the task-force can address that."

"We also hope that the focus will be on ensuring that different agencies' efforts are better co-ordinated, that they are full effective in supporting the families of missing people."

[Originally published: bbc.co.uk/wales/radiowales/sites/eyeonwales/updates, 30 November 2009]