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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
'Vital role' of missing helpline
by Marie Jackson
BBC News

Justice has finally been served 28 months after the Chohan family fell victims to a gang of brutal criminals.

It was already a protracted process with bodies dumped in the sea and a fake letter posted from Calais and intended to lead police off the scent.

Search site in Stoodleigh, near Tiverton
The Chohan family's remains were buried in a Devon field
But without one particular resource, justice may have been much longer coming.

The National Missing Persons' Helpline (NMPH), which would have folded in March had it not been for emergency funding, has played a crucial role in this major investigation from supporting relatives to identifying bodies.

The charity, based in the London suburb of East Sheen, stepped in when a man's body was found off Bournemouth pier in Dorset in April 2003.

'Fed up with England'

Police requested some artwork be carried out to try to identify him but an alert case manager had already spotted a possible match.

By cross referencing the missing persons' database, the body was positively matched to the details of millionaire businessman Amarjit Chohan, who had disappeared two months before.

Police followed the tip-off up, matching the body's DNA to a Chohan family member and confirming everyone's worst fears.

Her body was fairly decomposed. It was a female. She had had at least one child and was wearing jogging pants
Terri Blythe, National Missing Persons Helpline

What had been a case of a family of five going missing - a letter signed by Mr Chohan said the family were fed up with life in England and had made a fresh start in France - was now a murder investigation.

At this point police were throwing resources at the case and NMPH thought its role in the case was over.

Chance conversation

In July 2003 police reported the discovery of the body of Mr Chohan's wife Nancy floating in the sea in Poole Bay, Dorset.

Yet by November there was still no sign of Nancy's mother, Charanjit Kaur, nor Nancy and Amarjit's two young boys Devinder and Ravinder.

A chance conversation however between a helpline worker and a coroner, sparked a new lead - an unidentified body found on the Isle of Wight may be that of Mrs Kaur.

Terri Blythe, from the NMPH, explained: "In this line of work you know what cases turn up where and when.

Going missing: The facts
National Missing Persons Helpline (generic)
The helplines handle more than 150,000 calls a year
70% of cases worked on by the charity are resolved
Men in their late 20s are more likely to disappear than any other group of adults
Among the over-60s, the most common reason for going missing is dementia or mental health problems
About 28% of adults that go missing sleep rough, as do two-fifths of young runaways
Adults are more likely to go missing if they are going through a crisis or a difficult transition

"Her body was fairly decomposed. It was a female. She had had at least one child and was wearing jogging pants. We look at the state of decomposition of the body and it was quite unusual for a body to wash up on the Isle of Wight."

The name was passed onto the police who were able to confirm the body was Mrs Kaur's.

Ms Blythe said it was a good example of how the helpline worked hand in hand with the police and could offer a "safety net".

She said: "Our level of involvement was pretty small because it was quite quick.

"It was mainly police and the murder investigation, but we feel we were able to help on two counts.

"Without us, it would have taken a lot longer. We hope we save police time, effort and money."

Lost boys

The helpline, set up 13 years ago by Mary Asprey OBE and Janet Newman OBE, also plays an important role in supporting family members.

Although not trained counsellors, the 12 case managers are there to provide advice and practical help.

Families of missing people are invited to call the helpline at any time and can pick up a case 10 years on.

New ageing techniques, a cross between science and art, can be used to transform the face of a child of eight to a man of 18.

The extra publicity 10 years since a loved one's disappearance, although not always successful, can give comfort to families that there are still practical steps that can be taken.

Police are very aware of where (the boys) might show up. Assuming they went in the sea, it's a case of waiting for them to wash up
Terri Blythe
National Missing Persons' Helpline

But for Devinder, who was 17 months at the time of going missing, and Ravinder, who was only eight weeks old, there is little more that can be done.

Ms Blythe said it had to be assumed that the boys have been murdered and most likely dumped somewhere.

'Not knowing'

She said: "Police are very aware of where they might show up. Assuming they went in the sea, it's a case of waiting for them to wash up.

"It's quite possible that nothing will be found of them. We are not actively seeking to find them - the case is closed now.

"However if the police want us to help with publicity, we would help wherever we can."

For someone who is used to seeing the horrors of decomposed bodies and cases of missing children become murder inquiries, this case has been particularly heart wrenching.

Ms Blythe said the worst part for the families was often the "not knowing", but in this "horrific" case the worst part is in fact, knowing what happened.

How police tracked down the murderers

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