Missing Adults – the law (Updated 2022)

There is always a reason why an adult will go missing. Many are vulnerable and at risk, whilst others just need to ‘drop out’ for a while, in circumstances that pose no danger to themselves or others. Approximately 90,000 adults are reported missing to the police each year, but exactly what powers do police have when a missing adult does not want to be found and return to their family or friends? The simple truth is that legal powers relating to missing adults are extremely limited.

Finally, whilst this article may present a fairly negative approach to missing adults, that is not our intention. We simply wanted to highlight some of the limitations that police have when investigating missing adults, and also the rights to privacy that the missing person has. Generally, the police will work around these limitations to achieve a safe outcome for the missing person. We do not wish anyone reading this to be deterred from reporting someone missing if they have disappeared and there are concerns around their safety. If this is the case then they should be reported to police. With that in mind we wanted to finish with a common myth with regards to missing adults. This is that when reporting an adult missing, the informant should wait 24 hours before doing so, just in case they come back. This is not the case and if there are concerns for the safety and welfare of the person, then they should be reported missing immediately.

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  1. Anon 19/04/2022 at 4:19 am - Reply

    under Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, officers can force entry to save life or limb if they have reasonable grounds to suspect (not believe, as stated in the article) that someone inside is at serious risk of harm

    • Safeguarding Hub 08/06/2022 at 3:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Saving life or limb requires belief that an immediate risk of serious or life threatening harm, or serious damage to/threat of damage to property, exists – see the case of Friswell v Chief Constable of Essex Police (2004). In this case, it was held that the nature of the power under section17(1)(e) was one which required circumstances giving rise to an immediate and present threat or danger before the power of entry to private premises could be lawfully exercised.

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