Men missing on a night out: Exploring the geography of fatal disappearances to inform search strategies

  • Newiss, Geoff (PI)
  • Greatbatch, Ian (CoI)

Project Details


In the UK, cases of people going missing on a night out – often ending in a fatal outcome – have attracted growing attention in recent years. Many cases take a long time to be resolved, leaving families ‘in limbo’ and attracting media scrutiny of the police response and investigation.

This paper presents findings from a study of 96 fatal disappearances of men who were last seen ‘on a night out’. The study examines the geographical components of these cases: the venue the missing person was last socialising in, their last known position, their point of entry into the water or incapacity on land, and the place their body was recovered. The paper outlines important implications for the development of search strategies in these cases.

The underlying premise of the study was that focusing on a group of cases defined by the circumstances in which they went missing rather than the personal characteristics of the individuals (other than being male ) would yield important and operationally useful findings for assessing risk and developing search strategies.

Key findings

The research indicates that the probability of fatality in 'missing on a night out' cases is very high compared to other types of missing incident, and that this risk increases considerably the longer the person remains missing.

In 89% of fatal disappearances in these circumstances the bodies of men were recovered from water: rivers, canals, lakes, the sea etc. Most appeared to have been the result of an accident. 11% of cases resulted in a body being found on land, for example after falling, or having died of hypothermia or a drugs overdose.

The use of an extended range of geographical points enabled the study to examine spatial aspects peculiar to disappearances on a night out and to produce a number of search ‘heuristics’. For example, whilst 90 per cent of disappearances from areas of high night-time economy resulted in fatality in water, five of the six cases in which the person was found on land resulted from a fall, four of which were within 100 meters of the place they were last socialising (the 'Last Venue Point'). Checking possible fall locations in the near vicinity of the LVP provides an immediate search option before the more specialist search resources required to enter water are deployed.
Short titleMissing On a Night Out
Effective start/end date1/01/1031/12/17