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Missing children - a cause for alarm; Many could become sex abuse victims.

Byline: Andrew Glover

ALARMING numbers of children are regularly going missing from home in the North East, sparking fresh fears many could become the targets of sexual abuse.

New data released by Northumbria Police and Durham Constabulary reveal they are dealing with hundreds of missing child reports every month.

The calls - from parents or carers - numbered almost 4,000 in just one year, as charity's point to the danger posed by a "cohort" of perverts in the North East.

Police insist most young people reported missing are found safe within hours - but a Tyneside charity that supports runaway children today issued a stark warning.

SCARPA - Safeguarding Children At Risk Prevention and Action - is a project supported by the Children's Society and Barnados in Newcastle.

Project manager Richard Haigh expressed his alarm at the new figures, and said children who go missing are at risk of grooming and sexual exploitation by adults waiting to take advantage of them.

"If it's 3am and nobody knows where 13-year-old Jack is or 14-year-old Louise is that could be a very dangerous situation," he said.

"Unfortunately, like other cities, Newcastle has a cohort of adults who are interested in trying to sexually exploit vulnerable young people.

"When young people end up in situations where they have been groomed or sexually exploited we find that they are almost always young people that have been going missing from home."

In 2010 Northumbria Police dealt with 3,083 reports of missing children. The force had 457 calls in the first two months of this year.

Durham Constabulary dealt with 774 missing person reports in 2010 that were tagged "vulnerable child" which indicates the involvement of someone under the age of 17. Figures obtained by The Journal under the Freedom of Information Act reveal many of the children reported missing are living in care homes run privately or by local councils.

In many instances the same children are going missing over and over again - leading to inflated figures for some councils.

Det Supt Adrian Green of Durham Constabulary said: "The overwhelming majority of those reported as missing return home safe and well, usually within 48 hours or less. But when serious concerns are expressed for their wellbeing then additional resources are always allocated, since their health and safety are of paramount importance.

"Dealing with reports of individuals who repeatedly go missing does take up considerable time and resources, but each case is treated on its merits according to the level of risk involved." Of the reports Northumbria Police investigated, 42 involved children aged younger than five.

A spokesman for the force said: "Children go missing for many reasons, from wanting to stay out later than they are allowed, to being unhappy with a domestic situation or having problems at school.

"Missing people reports are risk assessed into three categories, high, medium and low. Children are never risk assessed as low due to the nature of their age.

"Most reports of missing children are assessed as medium risk, which results in officers actively looking for and trying to establish the whereabouts of that person."


ALARMED Richard Haigh, project manager for Scarpa
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 2, 2011
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