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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Snatch alert swings into action
Local TV and radio shows were interrupted with alerts
Police in Sussex hunting for six-year-old Summer Haipule were the first in the UK to use the Child Rescue Alert system.

The system was set up after the abduction and murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in the county in 2000.

It works by interrupting local radio and TV broadcasts with details about a snatched child within the first crucial hours of them going missing.

Messages are also put on local BBC Ceefax pages, and text messages are sent to people who have registered their mobiles with the scheme.

In Sussex, several thousand mobiles are registered including all Sussex police mobiles, and mobiles of all surrounding councils.

The alerts about Summer were first broadcast at about 2200 BST on Monday evening and had sparked 70 calls by 0600 BST on Tuesday, said Chief Superintendent Paul Curtis of Sussex Police.

Four criteria

As it turned out, Summer was found safe and well by a stunned neighbour, who found her sleeping under a cot.

Mr Curtis said the alert had proved useful, despite some teething problems.

"Certainly the messaging side of it worked, and we got some 70 calls in as a result of it.

When a child under 16 goes missing
The child is believed kidnapped
A senior police officer fears death or serious harm
The case has sufficient descriptive details, eg photos of victim or suspect

"Part of it didn't work so well, the text side. So that's something we'll be working on in the future."

A police spokesman said the force was on the whole "very pleased" with the way the system had worked - despite the fact that no-one got any text messages.

"We got the message out within a very short space of time.

"The first broadcasts were at about 10pm which for us, in terms of checking facts and that kind of thing, is fairly fast. It changes the way we do things.

"The text side of it is still in development, and there were some teething problems, but overall that's a small part of the whole alert system.

"We'll be reviewing the whole exercise once things have calmed down but on the whole we were pleased with how it worked."

Experts say that if a snatched child is found within three to six hours, they have a good chance of being found alive.

US idea

The scheme swings into action only when four main criteria are met, and is expected to be used only once or twice a year by any one police force.

The missing child must be under 16 and feared kidnapped; a senior police officer must fear the child could be seriously harmed; and there must be enough descriptive details, such as a photo of the child, to make a message worthwhile.

The Child Rescue Alert scheme is based on a similar scheme in the US, called Amber Alert, which has helped find 73 snatched children.

Amber Alert was first introduced in Texas following the 1996 kidnapping and murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, and later rolled out in other states.

It is now being considered by other forces across the UK, including Dumfries and Galloway.

'Abducted girl' found
08 Jul 03  |  Southern Counties
Kidnap warning scheme launched
14 Nov 02  |  UK News

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