Of the 180,000 missing persons cases in the UK each year, the vast majority are solved in less than 48 hours. In London, almost a quarter have been missing for more than five years.
A Freedom of Information request sent to the Metropolitan police revealed that of 917 active missing persons cases on their files, 217 were reported missing before September 2013. Each leaves a family living in limbo behind.
Among the 217 cases is that of 16-year-old Mary Flanagan, who disappeared from her West Ham home on New Year’s Eve of 1959. Notable as the longest running missing persons case in the UK, Mary’s parents passed away never knowing what became of their little girl.
Mary’s three siblings, now pensioners themselves, are still looking for answers in their sister’s disappearance. An age progression photo was released as recently as last year, depicting Mary at the age of 74.
For parents like Kevin Gosden, the search goes on. His son, Andrew Gosden, was just 14 years old when he went missing from London in 2007.
After skipping school in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, Andrew withdrew £200 from his bank account and got a one way ticket to King’s Cross station. He was caught on CCTV leaving the station, and has been neither seen nor heard from since.
Despite 11 years of interviews, media appearances and publicity campaigns, the Gosdens are no closer to finding out what happened to Andrew.
“There was no hint that he was unhappy with anything, no trace of communication with anyone”, says Kevin. “We have had possible sightings over the years, but none of those has proved to be solid.
When someone goes missing, suspicion often falls on members of the family first. For Kevin, his treatment by police led to a suicide attempt.
“I felt the only way the police would get on with looking for Andrew was if I was not there to distract them”, he says.
“I have struggled with depression, anxiety & post-traumatic stress disorder ever since. I have had various therapies, which help a little, but the situation cannot be resolved without knowing what happened to Andrew.”
Through more than a decade of uncertainty, one charity has been a lifeline for Kevin and his family.
“The support from the Missing People charity has evolved a great deal in the past few years. They offer telephone counselling, have an online family forum, Christmas Carol services, an annual family day, the Missing People Choir and so on. The way in which this connects you with others in similar situations is invaluable”
Missing People is an independent charity funded by donations. As well as searching for missing people, they provide specialised support to ease the heartache and confusion of the loved ones left behind.
Paul Joseph, Head of Helplines at Missing People says: “When a relative goes missing it can be an exceptionally difficult time for any family. Of course, there is always hope – the hope someone is safe, living a life elsewhere, and we are here to walk alongside families in that hope, but also support them on their darkest days.”
Yet through more darker days than most, Kevin refuses to give up.
“The bottom line is that if you gave up hope, you would be giving up love - and we all love Andrew. How could we live with ourselves if we could not at least say we had tried everything we could think of?”