Police project slashes rate of repeatedly missing girls

Sharon*, in her 30s, has been living on the streets for more than two years - but is now in emergenc

Numbers fell from a peak of 25 per week to one or less a week - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A police operation has been credited with slashing the rate of repeatedly missing young women in Suffolk.

Operation Culworth was commissioned in June 2020 amid concern for a cohort of young females who were regularly reported missing and at risk of exploitation. 

A report by Suffolk police showed that missing episodes had plummeted from more than 25 before the operation was launched to just one a week by the end of December.

The report – an update to the police and crime commissioner on how the force deals with children and young people – said the operation had set out to reduce the number of missing episodes and develop a plan to provide long term solutions.

As part of the operation, proactive exercises were carried out by specialist teams, including arresting several individuals for facilitating exploitation of children.

Staff were educated in key themes around the National Referral Mechanism for potential victims of modern slavery, and in the use of civil powers and legislation.

The operation also saw posters and postcards distributed to local hotels and licensed premises to raise awareness and knowledge of child sexual exploitation.

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Postcards were distributed to all 600 licensed taxi drivers, while a new missing person protocol was introduced to maximise the chance of quick and safe resolution by encouraging carers, parents, guardians and friends to compile up-to-date, useful information that could be used in the event of a young person going missing from care.

The report said: "As a consequence of the operation, missing episodes have continued to decline, due to the hard work and dedication by all of the frontline colleagues. 

"The average missing numbers have fallen from a peak of 25 per week in June 2020 to one or less a week for the last six weeks (December 2020)."

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Jones said: "There are a lot of skilled people working to identify those who need our help the most.

"Operation Culworth took a very strong approach with people going missing most frequently and for whom we had the most concern."