In January 2017, I launched a campaign to improve the way the FCO deals with UK nationals when somebody disappears overseas, and worse still if that person is found dead. This was following the disappearance and tragic death of my son Nicolas, in Moscow in December 2016.
I am pleased to say that the campaign has been a success.
On the 16th July I received a very favourable reply to my correspondence with Harriet Baldwin, Minister of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In this letter the FCO confirmed that they had adopted various changes in their policy in response to my grievances:
“- all people reported as missing are now automatically assessed as vulnerable
for the first 24 hours after a report has been made to us. This means our staff,
including those providing out of hours support, will prioritise cases in the
immediate hours after someone goes missing. Staff are now clearly advised
never to assume the missing person will be found and to treat the
disappearance as a reality from the beginning, urging local authorities to do the same;
– we have updated our guidance on data protection to make it clearer to staff
that they can share personal data about a missing person with relevant third
parties such as the police, without the consent of the missing person, where it
in their best interests, necessary and proportionate;
– to improve how we co-ordinate and share information on the developments in a missing persons case, we have also updated our guidance to ensure that FCO staff and families agree on a single point of contact in the family at the
beginning, and that all other interested parties are informed of that decision;
– we have also worked with the UK police on an update to their guidance on
handling missing persons cases overseas.
We cannot investigate the location of a missing person. That is a role for the local police and local authorities in the country where the person is missing. That is why our main focus when we were first contacted when Nicolas went missing was to ensure that the correct Police authorities in Russia and in the UK had been informed. We will continue to advise families how to make a missing person’s report, and check that local authorities are aware and taking action.
Finally but importantly, we took forward your suggestion on IMEI numbers. We have included this in our Travel Advice here – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/foreign-travel-
checklist – and are looking at ways of promoting this further”.
In the meantime in response to my complaint to my MP and other similar complaints to MPs, Hannah Bardell SNP secured an Adjournment Debate on 28 February in the House of Commons, to discuss the suspicious deaths of two of her constituents, allowing other MPs who were in the house to raise questions on behalf of their constituents who had lost loved ones overseas and had received little or no support from the FCO.
The debate was heard in the presence of the FCO’s Minister, Harriett Baldwin.
The immediate focus of the debate was on suspicious deaths abroad and the lack of help offered by the FCO when it came to dealing with local police, who had clearly failed to carry out a fair investigation into a death, even in line with the local applicable law. However, the debate included the overall interaction of the FCO with the local police and the “pastoral” care of relatives back home, once a death had been established, about which there have been so many complaints.
Harriet Baldwin agreed to the idea of an all-party group, “which I think is extremely constructive. I have my own opinions about how we can improve assistance in these cases, as did my predecessor, now the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice.”
On the 14th March the inaugural meeting of an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) took place. Several meetings took place between March and October and at the time of writing, 18th November, Hannah Bardwell is summing up after over 50 people including myself gave evidence.
Positive change has happened and more is on its way