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