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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 10:20 GMT
Technology helps search for toddler
by BBC News Online's Peter Gould
Computer technology is being used in an effort to trace a British child who disappeared in Germany 19 years ago.
A technique used by the National Missing Persons Helpline (NMPH) to "age" pictures of missing children, is now offering renewed hope to the parents of Katrice Lee.
The little girl vanished in 1981, on her second birthday, during a visit to the Naafi shop on an army base at Paderborn, near Hanover.
Her parents, Richard and Sharon, still cling to the belief that she may be alive. The computer-modified picture, showing Katrice as she might look today as a 21-year-old, is being used as part of a new appeal.
"As a family, all we want is an answer," says Mrs Lee. "We believe she may have been abducted and brought up by another family as their own. When she sees this picture she may realise it is her."
Every year a quarter of a million people in Britain are reported missing.
The majority turn up safe and well within a few hours, at the most they are gone no more than two or three days.
But thousands do not, and the distress and anguish of their families can last much longer. For them NMPH may offer the best hope of a happy reunion.
Surprisingly, given the numbers of people reported missing, there is no central agency responsible for gathering information that can be used to help trace those who have inexplicably disappeared.
The police do not look for people unless the missing person is regarded as vulnerable - or it is thought a crime has been committed.
The Salvation Army operates a family tracing service which concentrates on blood relatives, and helps to re-unite thousands of people every year.
But that still leaves many more people who have vanished, leaving behind worried friends and families.
NMPH has its own web site and operates two free telephone lines. One is a "message home" service that allows people who have run away to reassure their families they are alive and well - even if they do not want to be found.
The charity works with the police, a partnership established during the "House of Horror" murder investigation in Gloucester.
The disappearance of young women, murdered at the Cromwell Street home of Fred and Rosemary West, demonstrated the need for a more comprehensive register of missing people.
By searching its database, NMPH helped to identify several of the murder victims. But it also provided happier news, reuniting 120 families who feared that a missing female relative had been among those killed.
Since then, a number of police forces have been working more closely with the charity, which now receives around one hundred thousand phone calls a year.
In addition to its extensive database, NMPH employs an artist who can turn a post mortem photograph into a likeness of the person as they appeared in life. And in the case of skeletal remains, clay is used to create a 3D model of the person's face.
The search for a missing person often crosses national boundaries. By featuring the following cases on the Internet, the charity hopes that some families may receive good news this Christmas.
The following are just three of the missing persons being sought by friends and relatives
Simon, who is 32, was last seen in the Horseshoe Bar in Gibraltar on 12 December 1986. He had been serving in the Royal Navy, and was looking forward to returning home to Bristol.
His family say they are desperately worried because his disappearance is so out of character. He is 5 ft 8in tall with mid-brown hair and hazel eyes. He has a tattoo of a horse's head on his right arm with the word "Simon" across it. He has a pale complexion and a mole on his chin.
Odette disappeared from her home in Paris in September 1995 and arrived in England on a ferry docking at Newhaven.
There have been unconfirmed sightings of her in a number of areas, including Brighton and Worthing. Her family believe she is depressed and confused, and are seriously concerned about her. She is 5ft 4in tall, medium to heavy build, and wears gold-framed reading glasses. She has light brown, collar-length hair and brown eyes.
IAN LAWSON MOGFORD
Ian is 24, and a student of Bristol University. He was reported missing in September 1996 while travelling in India.
He had set off alone to travel to the Kulu Valley area, and intended to go mountain trekking. But it is thought bad weather forced him to abandon the trek, and he may have travelled on to Ladakh. He is 5ft 10 in tall, of medium build, with light brown hair.
Anyone who thinks they may have seen one of these people is asked to call the National Missing Persons Helpline, on Freefone 0500 700 700.
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