A major national campaign is under way to get more people and businesses to sign up to a service that uses texts, emails and social media to raise the alarm when a child goes missing.
Stephen Fry is leading the Child Rescue Alert initiative to make every second count when a child is reported missing.
More than 315,000 people are currently registered to receive targeted Child Rescue Alerts, which are issued by the charity Missing People at the request of police.
Child Rescue Alerts have been sent out three times in the UK, most recently in March last year when a 14-year-old girl from the Midlands went missing. After the police ordered an alert, the system went into action and the child was found safe and well in less than 24 hours.
Sadly that wasn’t the outcome when an alert was issued in Scotland in 2014 in the tragic case of missing toddler Mikaeel Kular, whose body was later discovered buried in Kirkcaldy.
The alert prompted a large-scale search after three-year-old Mikaeel was reported missing in Edinburgh by his mother, who was jailed in 2014 after admitting culpable homicide.
An alert is only activated when a child is missing and police believe their life is in imminent danger.
Similar systems around the world have helped in the search for hundreds of children.
Royal Mail is the service’s main supporter for 2016 and 123,000 of the company’s postmen and women are registered to receive alerts, providing eyes and ears on the ground.
Patron Stephen Fry said: “I believe that Child Rescue Alert should be a national institution – something for everyone to find out about and sign up to. It reminds me of a fire extinguisher – everyone should have one ready to use at a moment’s notice but we all hope that we will never need it.”
Child Rescue Alert is a partnership by the National Crime Agency, Missing People and education technology company Groupcall. It has been available as a national policing tool since 2008 and was enhanced in 2014 to allow the public to get involved thanks to funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.
Jo Youle, chief executive of the charity Missing People, said: “Time and again at the charity we see communities rally together when a local child goes missing.
“Child Rescue Alert is thankfully not issued often – it’s for the most vulnerable of children going missing. We are asking everyone to join us and register to be alerted as soon as possible if a child goes missing in their communities.”