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Missing-murdered: Identifying vulnerabilities and risk factors

To help develop toolkits for police officers to reduce challenges and risks associated with recognising and responding to homicide in missing person investigations. 

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr Cheryl Allsop and Dr Helen Jones
Police region
Collaboration and partnership

Collaborative project with a UK police force. Funded by the Home Office Science, Technology, Analysis and, Research (STAR) fund. 

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Between 2007-2019, 320 homicide cases were reported on the Homicide Index (HI) where the victim was a missing person.

These cases are complex and resource intensive. Initial enquiries and risk assessments are undertaken by, and passed between, (sometimes newly recruited and busy) frontline officers. Sometimes risks are missed. Moreover, little is known about which vulnerabilities and risk factors are associated with victims (or suspects), despite vulnerable groups often being targeted by offenders.

Delays in recognising homicide reduce the chances of solving it, impacting public confidence in the police, delaying justice, and allowing perpetrators to continue offending. 

This project supports government and police priorities, preventing both homicide and violence against women and girls. The goal is to understand commonalities and characteristics to assist in developing toolkits for (frontline) police officers, to mitigate against challenges and risks associated with recognising and responding to homicide in missing person investigations.

The method combines qualitative and quantitative analysis of cases, plus interviews and workshops with practitioners. The benefits will enable the police to spot the triggers which might indicate homicide when taking missing person reports. 

The project will address four objectives.

  1. Chart the number of homicide investigations involving missing people that [an anonymous police force] have investigated since March 2007, including court outcomes (where applicable).
  2. Identify the vulnerability/risk factors, characteristics and commonalties associated with both victims and suspects in these kinds of homicide and explore how these factors impact police risk assessments and decision-making.
  3. Identify the challenges that the police face when recognising and responding to a homicide.
  4. Consider how homicide investigations involving missing people (both short and long term) might be conducted more effectively.

Research methodology

Step 1 – Analysis of quantitative data

To interrogate quantitative data from an anonymous UK police force, to establish if there are more missing-murdered cases than than currently identified from the Home Office Homicide Index. 

Step 2 – Detailed case analysis

To undertake a detailed case analysis of 60 cases, populating a more detailed ‘homicide index’, which will be analysed. 

Step 3 – Case-based workshop

To conduct a case-based workshop to explore in more detail vulnerability/risk factors, police risk assessments and decision-making across the course of an exemplar case. The workshop will also allow the research team to explore broader issues. 

Step 4 – Case-based interviews

Based on the detailed case analysis, the research team will identify up to 30 cases from which to conduct case-based interviews with staff involved in the investigations. These interviews will reflect a broad range of roles, including call takers, frontline officers, and senior investigating officers.

Interviewees will be asked to discuss in more detail vulnerability/risk factors, police risk assessments and decision-making pertinent to their specific role in the investigation. 

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