Globe, United Kingdom

Disappeared: but why?

About 900 British people go missing every day. Some are victims of crimes, others make a choice to disappear. What all their families share is an inexplicable feeling of pain, emptiness and doubts.

Miriam Valero

Lynda and John were married for 42 years. After spending all their lives working, they finally decided to retire and relax, and to try to turn some of their long-term dreams into reality.

Last April they planned a trip to Greece to relax, but also so that John could take part in a marathon. He loved running and spent months training for it.

On the day of the competition he waved goodbye to Lynda as he set off among a group of runners. She was waiting and clapping as the first runners were crossing the finishing line. But she began to worry when she saw John had not arrived, and thought that he might have been injured. She looked for him without success. Months later and up till now, John is still missing. Lynda could never have imagined that that would be the last time she would say goodbye to her husband.

This is just one example of the thousands of families who are still waiting for those who never returned, and trying to find a logical explanation for the disappearance of a family member.

In 2011 alone 327,000 people did not return to their homes in the UK, and it is estimated that 14% of police work is dedicated to the search for missing persons.

Although cases exist among all age groups, more than half are people under 18.

Some disappeared in this country, others abroad. Some were the victims of crimes or of accidents, others were trying to escape from financial or health problems, and many of them left of their own free will.

Out of the cases reported each year it is calculated that only a small number of people, about 1%, are still missing 12 months later. It is this small percentage of families who not receiving any news, and remain in this painful state of limbo, not knowing what to think.

The British government began the process last July of giving legal status to a certificate that a person is “missing presumed dead”. The intention is to assist people whose dear ones have been missing for a long time, to put their legal and financial affairs in order more easily, in this disturbing situation. So that, for example, families can gain access to the missing person’s bank account.

Of their own free will

Normally, when disappearances happen, attention is concentrated on the incalculable suffering, and on the painful questions that remain unanswered. Questions such as: “ Are they alive?” “Are they in good health?” “Did something happen or did they choose to disappear?”

However, and leaving aside the unfortunate cases in which people disappear against their will, everything about the lives of the adults who choose to no longer remain in their habitual surroundings, still remains a mystery.

Some of the reasons for people disappearing without trace are suggested by experts and volunteers who work with missing people. They include escaping from violence and conflict in their family, or to get away from relations with serious personal problems. Other people who sometimes take this route are those with money problems, or who are suffering from illnesses or addictions.

Those who disappear and begin a new life (and many succeed) start from square one as anonymous people. They do not tell their real story to those who come to know them, and sometimes they also change their names.

This is what Rebecca did, who was a victim of violence from her father when she was young. She shared her life and home with the person who was harassing her, who was also her blood relation. At the age of 22 Rebecca decided that the only choice she had of getting out of the situation was to disappear. So, one day she left the house and did not return, as she explained to The Guardian newspaper.

In the UK people like Rebecca have the right to be missing persons. But the lack of information about their situation and the fact that there are no many organizations which represent or support them means that they don’t know how to return home if they decide to, or at least how to inform their families that they are well without the fear of being discovered.

The report “Geographies of Missing People”, will be the first study to be undertaken in the UK which aims to provide information about this strange world without answers, which constitutes the life of missing persons.

This investigation, which is being carried out by the Economic and Social Research Council in conjunction with the Universities of Glasgow and Dundee, will also be the first to approach the problem from the point of view of missing people, as well as collecting statements from their families and the police.

The purpose of the study is to understand the nature of these disappearances, so as to help those affected by them.

(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email:

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