What to do when a veteran or service person goes missing

Myth: There’s nothing you can do until they’ve been missing 48 hours.

Fact: There’s plenty that you, the police and other services can do. Acting quickly saves lives. 

It can be very distressing when someone you know goes missing, particularly if you believe that person to be vulnerable or at risk. If you believe a missing friend or loved one is in danger from themselves or someone else, or they pose a danger to others, then you should call 999 immediately. 

Informing the police.

The police will want as many details from you as possible to assist in any investigation that takes place. It can be helpful to think about gathering this information in preparation for calling. This information is likely to include: 

  • The circumstances around them going missing. 
  • Where they were last seen and by who. 
  • Places you think the person might be or might be likely to go.
  • A recent photograph and a visual description including age, build, height, clothes they were last seen wearing and any distinguishing features (tattoos, scars, birthmarks etc). 
  • If they are known to have any physical disabilities or mental illnesses. 

As well as informing the police, you should take steps to locate the person yourself, this is true of anyone who goes missing, not just veterans and service personnel. You may consider: 

Making contact with anyone they have regular contact with including friends, family members and work colleagues. If they are still serving, let their unit know as they may also be able to assist in a search. Consider posting to regimental Facebook/support groups to see if anyone has had recent contact. 

Searching their home for them (if legally able to do so) or for any clues as to their whereabouts. Have they left any notes or messages? Consider what the person has on them, have they taken spare clothes, toiletries? If they take medication, have they taken it with them? This could give you an idea of where they might have gone and how long they plan on being gone for. 

Visiting areas they may be likely to visit. Do they have a favourite park, a local pub or a place where they like to go when they need time to think?


What can you expect the police to do?

How the police will respond will depend on the information you give them, what they already know and what they believe the risk to the missing person or others may be. Missing persons believed to be vulnerable or at risk of harm, self harm or suicide are dealt with differently to someone who goes missing but is not believed to be in immediate danger. 

The police categorise a missing person on something called a continuum of risk. A missing person can be categorised in one of four ways: 

No apparent risk

It is unlikely the police will do much more than advise you of steps you can take to help locate them. However, if the perceived risk to the individual changes then they may escalate to a higher category. 

Low risk

The police will carry out enquiries to ensure the individual has not come to harm. The risk to self or others is perceived as low so they are not likely to engage with other agencies or go beyond ‘usual policing’ to investigate. This may include checking CCTV, speaking to local hospitals and searching the individuals’ home address.

Medium Risk

A medium risk means the police believe the individual may come to harm or cause harm to others. The police will take an escalated effort to locate the person which may include liaising with search and rescue/missing persons organisations, checking CCTV, searching areas the person is known to visit and asking local hospitals. Police may also appeal to the public for help via social media. 

High Risk

The police believe risk to the individual or the public is very likely and will respond immediately and significantly. This almost always means an immediate ground search (unless the terrain/weather/time of night make it dangerous to do so). Press will be informed and a public appeal will happen as soon as possible. All of the investigatory steps outlined in previous risk categories will take place under the guidance of an appointed ‘investigating officer’. 

When reporting a missing person to the police, they may tell you the risk category they have assigned to the individual. If not, you can ask. They will also give you an incident reference number or log reference number. It is important you write this down as you will need it when speaking with the police in future. 

The police may also wish to provide support to you as a family member or friend to the missing person. 


Requesting a Beacon Alert.

In the case of missing veterans and service personnel, you can ask All Call Signs to launch a Beacon Alert. This is a social media alert system used to engage other veterans and members of the military community in locating the missing person. 

Typically, Beacon Alerts are seen by millions of people and can be a very effective tool in gathering information regarding a person’s whereabouts to the police and other search agencies. Since its launch, Beacon has been used to help locate over 150 missing veterans and service personnel. To request a Beacon Alert, please call 023 9438 7914 or send us a message on Facebook

We’re going to require some information to best help locate the missing person. As well as the details listed above for when communicating with police, we’re going to need consent from a close family member to launch a Beacon Alert. We’ll also need to know the individual has been reported as missing to the police, and we’ll need the incident reference number. 


Other Help & Support.

There are some other agencies you should consider engaging when a service person or veteran goes missing. There are a number of Facebook groups offering veteran support. These include: 

You may also consider engaging non-veteran specific missing person support organisations including:

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