Child Rescue Alert – What is it ?

The abduction of April Jones triggered the first nationwide child rescue alert ever used in the UK as investigators weighed up the risk to the child in the hours after her disappearance.

A tactic long used in America, the child rescue alert has never been used across the country like this before, partly because suspected stranger abductions are rare.

Police has introduced Child Rescue Alert, a national scheme designed to activate a fast time response to help find an abducted child before they come to any harm.

The scheme relies heavily on the help and involvement of the public, and operates as a partnership between Police and the local TV and radio stations.

Local media have agreed to interrupt television and radio programmes when asked to do so by the police, with news flashes alerting the public and asking them to call 999 or another designated number, if they have crucial information. As many details as possible will be given in the message so the public can immediately help the police look for the child, offender or any vehicle involved.

The public are asked to call 0300 2000 333 if they have any information that may help to locate the child. Only calls about a current CRA should be made to this number. The number is supplied by Cable and Wireless and is only available when a CRA has been activated.

Child Rescue Alert is based on an American concept called ‘Amber Alert’, which was introduced in Texas in 1996 following the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman. The scheme has now spread across America and has helped save the lives of more than 70 children.

When an alert would be launched

There are four key criteria that must be met before a Child Rescue Alert is launched:

  • A child apparently under the age of 18 is missing

  • There is reasonable belief that the child has been kidnapped or abducted

  • There is a reasonable belief that the child is in imminent danger of serious harm or death

  • There is sufficient information to enable the public to assist the Police in locating the child

Making the decision

The key decision is whether to launch an alert or not. Child abduction is thankfully still quite rare and it is not anticipated that the alert will be used very often. It is also felt that overuse will destroy confidence in the system.

It is acknowledged that the four criteria are all subjective, which is why the authorising officer will be of superintendent rank or above.

Once the Child Rescue Alert has been authorised, an alert will be circulated via e-mail to all media outlets signed up to the scheme containing as much information as possible, including:

  • Description of the child

  • Scanned photo of the child

  • Details of location and nature of the offence

  • Description of the offender(s)

  • CCTV/photo of the offender(s)

  • Details of vehicle used

How will I see or hear the message?

Radio stations will broadcast the Child Rescue Alert message every 15 minutes for four hours, while television stations will use a ticker tape at the bottom of the screen, or during a local transmission, will interrupt the programme and broadcast a newsflash.

What do I need to do?

Members of the public will be encouraged to keep their eyes and ears open for anything that may help the Police find the abducted child. If they see anything, they should call the Police on 999 or another designated number.

Information for Police

Police officers considering issuing a Child Rescue Alert should consult the CRA protocol 2010 for further guidance and information on how to access 24 hour assistance. This, and all relevant documentation, is available from the Missing Persons Bureau community on POLKA 24 hours a day or contact the Bureau during office hours (Monday to Friday, 9-5) on 0845 000 5481 for a copy. You will also find the special police-only phone number on POLKA, where you will be able to speak to an on-call advisor, 24 hours a day.

Background to the Child Rescue Alert

The Child Rescue Alert is based on the AMBER alert system which has been in use in the United States since 1997. AMBER stands for “America’s Missing Broadcasting Emergency Response” and was named after nine year old Amber Hagerman who was abducted, raped and murdered in January 1996. It was later discovered that local law enforcement had information that might have helped to locate her shortly after she was abducted, but had no means to distribute this information. The national programme is dedicated to all children nationwide, who have been abducted.