Missing in Ireland: the search process

What does the Garda Síochána do when somebody goes missing?

Last sighting: CCTV footage of Trevor Deely on December 8th, 2000. Photograph: An Garda Síochána

Last sighting: CCTV footage of Trevor Deely on December 8th, 2000. Photograph: An Garda Síochána


Each year the Garda Síochána receives thousands of reports of missing people. Most cases are resolved within hours, but each is treated seriously, and the people dealing with the reports follow a set of procedures that help to optimise search efforts.

How long must a person be missing before the authorities are alerted? Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person with the authorities. Anyone with serious concerns for the safety of a person whose whereabouts are unknown is encouraged to enlist the help of local gardaí.

How many people go missing in Ireland? Figures from 2013 indicate that the Garda investigated more than 7,750 missing-person reports, down from 8,815 the previous year. People may be reported missing multiple times. The number of outstanding missing persons at the end of 2013 was 16, compared with 48 in 2009. The Garda categorises missing persons as low, medium or high risk. Those regarded as high risk may have a history of mental-health issues or suicidal behaviour.

Who is interviewed? Everybody known to be associated with the missing person is spoken to, in order to build up a comprehensive profile of the individual in question. According to the Garda missing-persons bureau, any concerns raised about offenders of any type in the locality of a person reported missing are “addressed accordingly”; “specific and immediate” procedures are put in place for sex offenders based in the vicinity.

What is the Garda missing-persons bureau? Based at Garda headquarters, in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, the bureau offers support, guidance and training for search and retrieval operations but does not actively take part in them. It is a small unit, with just three members, who receive specialised psychology training to the level of a master’s degree.

What other groups help with missing-person appeals? Missing in Ireland Support Services (Miss) is a group for families of missing persons that also operates the missingpersons.ie website. In addition, dozens of local groups across Ireland work on a voluntary basis.

How is the family of a missing person dealt with? Families are usually kept up to date with proceedings by the local district officer. If the missing person is deemed high risk, however, or the case is long term, a family liaison officer is assigned.

How important is public support? Information reported by members of the public is often vital. In particular, social media is a valuable way to raise awareness and encourage public involvement. One recent alert issued for a child abduction was seen by 440,000 people on Facebook and Twitter, according to the Garda.

How reliable is public information? According to David Linehan, a search co-ordinator with Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery, there are pros and cons to public information. “You can actually have too much information coming in with the high-profile cases. You have people who are well intended, and they pass on information that they believe to be the truth and it subsequently turns out to be untrue . . . It also tends to draw negative people,” says Linehan, who has encountered entirely fabricated missing-person appeals made by people who “think it’s funny”.

Can you help? Who to contact

Anyone with information about Trevor Deely or another missing person can email the Garda missing persons bureau, at missing_persons@garda.ie, or contact any Garda station