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Missing persons: the processes and challenges of police investigation.

Fyfe, Nicholas R.; Stevenson, Olivia; Woolnough, Penny


Olivia Stevenson

Penny Woolnough


Responding to reports of missing persons represents one of the biggest demands on the resources of police organisations. In the UK, for example, it is estimated that over 300,000 missing persons incidents are recorded by the police each year which means that a person in the UK is recorded missing by the police approximately every two minutes. However, there is a complex web of behaviours that surround the phenomenon of missing persons which can make it difficult to establish whether someone's disappearance is ‘intentional’ or ‘unintentional’ or whether they might be at risk of harm from themselves or others. Drawing on a set of missing person case reconstructions and interviews with the officers involved with these cases, this paper provides insights into the different stages of the investigative process and some of the key influences which shape the trajectory of a missing person's investigation. In particular, it highlights the complex interplay between actions which are ‘ordered and conditioned’ by a procedural discourse around how missing persons investigations should be conducted, and the narratives that officers construct about how they approach investigations which are often shaped by a mix of police craft, ‘science’ and ‘reputational’ issues.


FYFE, N.R., STEVENSON, O. and WOOLNOUGH, P. 2015. Missing persons: the processes and challenges of police investigation. Policing and society [online], 25(4), pages 409-425. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 20, 2013
Online Publication Date Feb 5, 2014
Publication Date Aug 31, 2015
Deposit Date Apr 13, 2021
Publicly Available Date Apr 13, 2021
Journal Policing and Society
Print ISSN 1043-9463
Electronic ISSN 1477-2728
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 25
Issue 4
Pages 409-425
Keywords Missing persons; Investigation; Policing
Public URL


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