Guidance for families and carers: experiences of race discrimination

This page aims to be a quick guide for families and carers about what you can do if you, or your missing person, have experienced discrimination.

Discrimination when reporting a loved one missing

Some people of colour have told us that when they tried to report someone missing, the police would not accept their case, which they feel was influenced by their or their missing person’s ethnicity.

“Mum feels that ‘the police are discriminating against [missing person] because of his colour. Initially, she says they lied to her about what they were doing and says that 4 days went by when nothing happened.” Note from our case file of supporting the family of a missing child

If you experience similar challenges, we recommend keeping detailed notes of your interactions with the police and other professionals, and a timeline. When you speak to a police officer or other professional, note down:

  • Time and date of the contact
  • Name of person you spoke to + their officer number if they are a police officer
  • Reference number for the contact (police should be able to give you a CAD number)
  • Nature of the interaction
  • Nature of any concerns – noting why the police officer/ staff member stated why they would not take the case on as a missing person
  • Any actions that will be taken including deadlines/ when you will be updated

You may also want to check whether you think your loved one meets the definition of a missing person as outlined in the national police guidance for England and Wales and Scotland.

If you feel the police decision isn’t right, you can get in touch with Missing People’s team who will be able to discuss the situation with you, and talk through your options. Missing People can also support you to raise concerns with the police force.

Missing People’s expert team is available to talk through your situation, and think through what you would like to do. We understand that people can feel isolated and worried about raising these experiences, and we can talk that through with you, and provide emotional support.  You can call or text Missing People for free, and in confidence on 116000 or email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk  from 9am to 11pm, 7 days a week.

Discrimination when investigating a disappearance

People of colour have told us about issues with the investigation to find their missing loved one, including feeling the police did not take their concerns seriously, that they made assumptions about them or their missing person, or that professionals did not do enough to try to find their loved one. Some people of colour have told us that they felt they were not treated respectfully by the professionals they spoke to.

“As an ethnic minority I believe because I’m black, I was not taken seriously.” Quote from family member in our recent survey

[Missing person] has learning disabilities and is a victim of CCE. In early incidents mum felt that police did not take risks seriously enough, were not communicating and were not prioritising her son. Felt this was because of racism.” Notes from our case file supporting the mother of a missing child

If you experience similar challenges, we recommend keeping detailed notes of your interactions with the police and other professionals, and a timeline.

When you speak to a police officer or other professional, note down:

  • Time and date of the contact
  • Name of person you spoke to + their officer number if they are a police officer
  • Reference number for the contact (police should be able to give you a CAD number)
  • Nature of the interaction
  • Nature of any concerns – including any discriminatory language used, and police explanations of their decisions
  • Any actions that will be taken including deadlines/ when you will be updated

You may want to check national police guidance which explains what the police should do in a missing person investigation

Read the guidance for England and Wales

Read the guidance for Scotland

Read the guidance for Northern Ireland

In England and Wales, the College of Policing has created a code of ethics for policing which outlines standards of professional behaviour expected from everyone who works in the police. Read the code of ethics.

If you feel that you may have experienced discrimination in the police investigation into your missing person you can get in touch with Missing People’s expert team who will be able to discuss the situation with you, and talk through your options. Missing People can also support you to raise concerns with the police force. We understand that people can feel isolated and worried about raising these experiences, and we can talk that through with you, and can provide emotional support.  You can call or text Missing People for free, and in confidence on 116000 or email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk  from 9am to 11pm, 7 days a week.

Making a complaint to the police

If you would like to complain about your experience of the police you can do that via your local police force website, or in person at your local police station. There is a tool on the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IoPC) website where you can select your force and it will take you to their complaints page: https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/complaints-and-appeals/make-complaint

Although the police force will be responsible for investigating in the first instance, it will not be the officers directly involved in your case or anyone that you are complaining about. You have a legal right to make complaints about the force if you have experienced discrimination and your complaint should be taken seriously. Missing People can support you in making a complaint, if you would like us to.

The police force will review your complaint and should let you know what action they are going to take. If you are unhappy with how the police force have handled your complaint, you can apply for an appeal or a review from a national policing body. The police force should send you a letter with details on how to apply for an appeal or review so you will know who to contact.

England and Wales – the Independent Office for Police Conduct – note that you need to apply for an appeal within 28 days of receiving the outcome of your complaint from the police force you originally complained to. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has produced information about how they handle allegations of discrimination – read the IPCC guidelines for handling allegations of discrimination.

Scotland – the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner note that you need to apply for a review of your complaint within three months of the outcome of your complaint from Police Scotland.

Northern Ireland – the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

Other options

You can contact your MP to tell them about your experiences of discrimination and they may be able to take action on your behalf. Find out who your MP is and how to contact them.

Professionals

If you are reading this because you are a professional working with missing people or families who have experienced discrimination, please note that we recommend you support the person concerned to share their concerns if they wish to do so. Please do contact the team at Missing People if you or the person you’re working with would like to share their concerns with us. You can call or text Missing People for free, and in confidence on 116000 or email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk  from 9am to 11pm, 7 days a week.

Research and feedback

We have heard from people of colour about their experiences of race discrimination when they have reported a loved one missing, and the impact of this discrimination on them and on their missing loved one. Their experiences have been brought together in our briefing “What we know so far”. We continue to gather experiences from families and missing people on this topic – our online survey is here, or you can contact our team for free, and in confidence by text or phone on 116000, or by email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk

Tell us about your experience