FOURTEEN people a day are going missing in West Mercia, new figures show, with 77 per cent of annual reports involving vulnerable children.

2,945 of the 4,978 missing persons reports last year involved under 18s and Chief Inspector Graham Preece said he and his staff must “identify what the cause of this is”.

Many missing persons disappear repeatedly – 2,737 reports last year – and are vulnerable because of their age, physical and mental health or disappear from a place of care.

A total of 204 missing people were found harmed and 32 were found dead between January and December 2018.

“There are maybe fewer people going missing per year, but I would imagine more repeat people going missing,” said Ch Insp Preece, a missing person co-ordinator within the force.

“Maybe because they are placed some where they don’t want to be.

“You can see the group most likely to go missing more regularly [in West Mercia] are under 18s,” he continued.

He said a specialised police team work closely with care facilities, councils, schools, and other authorities, to tackle the issues.

There were 2,126 reports of people missing from care or foster care, according to the figures, but Ch Insp Preece was keen to emphasise that children going missing are not solely those in care.

“Kids who live with parents are still going missing,” he said. “People who are regularly going missing, it’s a symptom of other issues. We want to understand what these issues are and what we can do with the other people around the table to take that away and make that person safer.”

Ch Insp Preece added: “I think police have got to have a greater understanding of the cyber world to understand the risks and threats, and also the opportunities to identify where we can achieve our objectives.”

To help tackle this, the constabulary is one of the first to team up with the Missing People Charity and the Samaritans to provide an innovative text safe service to vulnerable people.

A message followed up with a phone call can be sent quickly to a person identified at risk, signposting them to other services and putting them in touch with one of the Samaritans.

This is all logged on the police system and used to better understand the issues and how to resolve them.

One in three people engaged with this service last year, compared to one in 20 who were reached previously.

Ch Insp Preece said that many people who go missing do not want to deal directly with the police and these schemes are a way of recognising that.

He said a greater use of technology and taking advantage of various partnerships will also help police better “identify high risk individuals” and better implement resources.

“14 people a day might not seem like a lot, but that impact will be felt by the force. There’s a balance to be struck.

“Three of those could be high risk and be more likely to attempt suicide. Our objective is to protect vulnerable people from harm.”

Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion has also invested in West Mercia Search and Rescue, whose volunteers provide extra support to the police, in finding those who are vulnerable.

These volunteers are invaluable to the force when it comes to finding missing persons, particularly as West Mercia is separated by the River Severn.

Mr Campion said: “Identifying and tackling the root causes which cause people to go missing is vitally important not only to keep vulnerable people safe, but to reduce the impact that missing people investigations have on police resources and demand.

“I welcome this multi-faceted approach, making the best use of technology, working across agencies and with innovative approaches to tackle this issue.

“The investments I have made are clear examples of how both West Mercia Police and I are committed to protecting the most vulnerable.”