Multiple missing: An exploration of behavioural consistency in repeat missing adults

Research Institution / Organisation

Abertay University

In Collaboration With

Police Scotland

Principal Researcher

Claire Taylor

Level of Research


Project Start Date

September 2015

Research Context

UK police receive approximately 350,000 missing person reports annually, costing up to £2500 per case. Around 38% of all reported incidents involve individuals who have previously gone missing. In addition, missing episodes can indicate significant vulnerabilities, for example, up to 80% of adult missing persons are thought to have mental health issues. Despite the financial and human costs that are associated with each missing episode, research has so far focused on children and adolescents who run away from care and on the related topic of absconding from mental health inpatient settings. This has left our understanding of why adults repeatedly go missing, and their vulnerabilities and experiences whilst away, in their infancy.

The current project proposes the use of both quantitative and qualitative methods in the form of database analyses and in-depth interviews to investigate the notion of behavioural, functional, cognitive, and affective consistencies across multiple disappearances. This study aims to advance our understanding of why individuals go missing repeatedly, their vulnerabilities and experiences whilst missing, and to provide critical insights for multi-agency prevention and future safeguarding strategies.

Practical Outcomes & Potential Benefits: This is the first psychologically-focused study of its kind, and will provide an enhanced understanding of the key issues for strategic innovation in the prevention and protection of repeat missing adults. Results will contribute to academic debates in investigative and experimental psychology, human geography, and mental health. In addition, the study will also provide direct and impactful learning for policy makers and practitioners. In summary, the study will directly inform police and partner agencies' training, missing person policies and operational practices.

Research Methodology

​The project comprises 3 stages of data collection.

Stage 1 involves analysis of existing police data in relation to adult repeat missing persons reported to selected Divisions of Police Scotland. Cases will be analysed to establish the nature and incidence of repeat missing adults and potential risk factors such as: age, sex, mental-health, number of missing incidents, duration, and location found.

In Stage 2 in-depth interviews and psychological testing will be conducted with located repeat missing adults to provide critical insights into the nature of individuals' missing episodes including psychological, functional, behavioural and geographical aspects to identify potential consistencies.

Finally, stage 3 will involve interviews with care providers within the top 10 locations for repeat missing adults across Scotland (such as hospitals) and will be focused on their views, responsibilities, experiences and attitudes towards repeat missing adults.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

March 2020
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