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The number of people missing in Cornwall and Devon revealed

The number of people missing in Cornwall and Devon revealed

Published by the Pirate FM News Team at 1:07pm 3rd April 2018. (Updated at 5:15pm 3rd April 2018)

The number of people who went missing across Devon and Cornwall in just one year has been revealed.

According to stats from Devon and Cornwall Police it was more than 2,800 in 2017.

763 of those were aged between 21 and 30.

It comes as a new law on managing the affairs of missing people is pushed back, and officials say that means families are being left in limo.

The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, will allow relatives and close friends to manage the affairs of missing people, without having to obtain a declaration of presumed death.

But secondary legislation is required before the Guardianship Act can come into force - something that was expected to take effect in April 2018, but which has now been pushed back.

According to figures obtained by law firm Ridley & Hall through Freedom of Information from 39 forces, Police in England and Wales recorded more than 99,000 missing people incidents in 2017. Typically, more men than women went missing.

The Metropolitan Police Service recorded the highest number of missing people (21,412) followed by Greater Manchester Police (8,959), West Yorkshire Police (7,710) and Hampshire Police (6,260).

Sarah Young is a Partner at Ridley & Hall where she advises relatives of missing people.

She says the Act is urgently needed to help those who still have hope and reason to believe their loved ones are alive.

The Ministry of Justice has indicated that the necessary rules of court will not be published until October 2018 at the earliest - and possibly not until April 2019.

Sarah said: "We currently lack a legal mechanism for relatives to step in and look after a missing person's property and finances while there is still hope they will return. As it stands, families must navigate the bureaucratic nightmare of financial institutions that are currently unable to legally recognise anyone who wants to manage a missing loved one's affairs,

"The Ministry of Justice estimates that as many as 100 applications will be made each year under the new law. But until the Guardianship Act actually comes into force, family members have no other option than to apply for a declaration of presumed death, if they want to prevent a missing loved one's property being repossessed or a bank account going into overdraft."

Sarah represents families of adults that have gone missing in the UK or abroad who have assets in England or Wales.

She added: "Most of the cases I deal with involve men. Often they have gone missing when hiking, sometimes abroad. Other cases sadly involve suspected suicide or murder.

"The problems for families that have been left behind are significant; homes are repossessed and bank accounts run into overdraft because no one has the authority to act. It is hugely distressing for families for whom the hope of their loved one returning is real."

Case study

Officals say that the Guardianship Act would have been particularly helpful in a case involving a Huddersfield man, Steven Cooper, who went missing on his 47th birthday in January 2008.

His family remain convinced that Steven is alive. However his partner Claire Lodge owned a property jointly with Steven and was trapped in it; unable to sell or re mortgage it without a declaration of presumed death.

The case ended up in a trial in front of a High Court judge in 2016 when an order was made against the family's wishes.

Sarah says: "It is frustrating for those of us who celebrated the introduction of the Guardianship Act to now learn that it could be another six months or a year before we can begin using it to help people. We need the Guardianship Act enabled now, not another year later."

Sarah has now written to the Lord Chancellor, David Gauke MP to ask him to prioritise implementing the Act. She is also contacting families of missing people that she has represented to ask them to share their stories with him.

She says: "The stress and anxiety of not knowing what has happened to their loved one is compounded by being unable to take any practical steps at all to manage their finances. This problem is particularly acute when a missing person owns property jointly; the left behind joint owner of a property cannot sell or re-mortgage, and is often left struggling to cope financially as a result."

How will the new law work?

Once the Guardianship Act does come into force, a person can apply to become the guardian of the estate after 90 days have passed.

The court must be satisfied that the guardian is a suitable person to act in that role, and do not have any possible conflict of interest.

The acts of the guardian will be overseen by the Public Guardian, who currently supervises attorneys and deputies who manage the affairs of individuals who lack mental capacity.

A Guardianship Order can last for up to four years, after which time, the guardian can be reappointed by the Court.

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