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Missing persons research

Explore our work in the area of Missing Persons, one of our areas of expertise in Criminology

Each year, people go missing during their regular, everyday activities and during major events like wars or natural disasters. In the UK alone, a person is reported missing to the police every 2 minutes.

Through the University's Centre for the Study of Missing Persons – which brings together partners from key agencies involved in missing persons cases – our research is identifying patterns of behaviour that may precede a person going missing. We're also working to change the policies and practices that determine how missing persons cases are handled.

Our research covers the following key topics

  • Missing people from care
  • Dementia and missing
  • Unaccompanied minors and missing
  • Child abduction
  • Search and rescue
  • Mental health and missing
  • Publicity appeals in cases of missing people

Our research is already making a real difference: we've conducted research into the true costs of a missing persons investigation, and our findings are already being used by police forces across the UK to improve their efficiency, and to better calculate their costs and budgets.

Our research regarding frequent reporting locations has been used by West Mercia police force to create a protocol for multi-agency collaboration, in an effort to reduce the number of repeat cases of missing children. Our evaluation of child rescue alerts is also being used by policy makers to decide the future use of this service.

We're also researching the reasons why unaccompanied migrant minors go missing, the response to missing incidents and the quality of aftercare for the people involved in each case. We're examining the reasons why search and rescue volunteers leave, and helping policy makers around the world to use findings to shape their missing persons practices and policies.

Partnerships and funders

We work in partnership with the charity Missing People, the National Crime Agency, and the National Police Lead on Missing Persons, which allow us access to police forces directly – and highlight the areas where our work can have the biggest impact – when conducting our research. These partnerships also allow us to share data and expertise with police forces and NGOs in the UK and around the world, and our research is already being applied in the field in many cases.

Our research is regularly funded by major organisations such as the National Crime Agency, the Police Innovation Fund and the European Union, and is frequently published in leading academic and industry journals, including Psychology, Crime & Law, the Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, Policing and Society, and the International Journal of Police Science & Management.

Project highlights

Discover our areas of expertise

Missing persons is one of our 7 areas of expertise in our Criminology research area. Explore the others below.

Economic Crime

We’re looking at economic crime, assessing the methods used to combat it, and developing new ways to protect individuals and organisations from fraud, corruption, money laundering and intellectual property crime.

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Forensic interviewing

We're exploring new and better ways to gather quality, reliable information from crime scenes and witnesses' minds – and helping develop protocols and practices that ensure this human data is protected and interpreted correctly.

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Cybercrime and Cybersecurity

We're exploring the growing threat and impact cybercrime at all levels of society, investigating the methods and motives of the people who commit it, and finding new ways to deal with them.

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In the wake of a prolonged period of budget cuts, our work deals with the most-pressing issues facing the police service – from how police officers learn, to the individual factors that can influence an investigation.

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Probation, Prison and Penology

We're working to understand the role of punishment, and how it links with processes of justice and rehabilitation – and helping shape how criminal justice practitioners work, by linking theory to practice.

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Forensic science

We're taking a closer look at how science can help identify, eliminate, reconstruct and inform the ways in which crime is investigated – including through fingerprinting and DNA recovery.

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Policing Crime and Forensic Investigation Research Group

We're researching policing, probation and criminal forensic investigation.

Interested in a PhD in Criminology?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Criminology postgraduate research degrees page.