Odd place, Britain. Every day, 13 million CCTV cameras track our movements. We're PIN-numbered, databased, credit-rated, nannied, Neighbourhood Watched, Facebooked, emailed and GPS-ed. You wouldn't think any of us could slip away unnoticed. But we do, in ever-increasing quantities. An Independent on Sunday investigation has established that the numbers of Britons who disappear each year is now at record levels.
Missing People, the charity that helps both the disappeared and those left behind, told us that 250,000 missing persons reports each year – more than 30,000 higher than any previous total – is "probably an underestimate"; others put the total nearer 275,000. This, the equivalent of the entire population of Plymouth being spirited away, means that, across the country, one person goes missing every two minutes.
The vast majority are swiftly found, or return of their own volition, but many don't. Some disappear for decades, and sources, including some inside the police, say the number of people in Britain who have been missing from family, friends and usual haunts for more than a year is at least 16,000 and could be as many as 20,000.
Among them are people like Melanie Hall, last seen in a Bathclub nightclub in 1996, whose parents had to endure 13 years of waiting and wondering before her remains were found, a week ago, beside the M5. She had been murdered. Nor does death always bring closure. At any one time, there are an estimated 1,000 unidentified bodies lying in the country's mortuaries and hospitals. Many have been there for years – unknown, unclaimed citizens.
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