Sussex has been revealed as having the fifth highest number of missing people in the UK.
A new report by the UK Missing Persons Bureau states that 12,116 people were reported missing in the county between 2011 and 2012, the most recent statistics available.
Sussex Police received more reports of missing people than all other police forces apart from Metropolitan, Manchester, Merseyside and West Midlands.
A spokesman for Sussex Police said: “Sussex has a high number of children’s homes, which accounts for a high number of missing children.
“Children in care are by definition more vulnerable by virtue of the circumstances which brought them there in the first place, and are also thus more likely to go missing because of their lifestyle and immaturity.
“The statistic is for all missing persons, but it follows that with a high number of missing children for the reason just given, the overall figure is correspondingly swelled.”
The new figure was revealed at a press conference for the launch of Operation Kite, a campaign to protect children from sexual exploitation in Sussex.
The initiative comes after six men from Eastbourne, Newhaven and Guestling, near Hastings, were charged with conspiracy to arrange the prostitution of a child, as reported in yesterday’s Argus.
Sussex Police will be working with children’s charity Barnardo’s, the charity Catch 22 and YMCA project WISE (What Is Sexual Abuse?). The aim is to improve the reporting of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) through increased awareness.
Police are also piloting a missing persons and CSE dedicated team based in Horsham which will cover the whole of West Sussex.
The team will include one police inspector, three sergeants, 12 constables, two Barnardo’s case workers and two missing persons co-ordinators with the main aim of reducing harm to missing children. The team will be evaluated after a year.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “I sincerely hope that this will increase public confidence to report these offences.
“I hope that it will result in more victims coming forward and having the confidence to complete the criminal justice process or seek another solution.
“And most importantly to keep Sussex safe from these vile offenders.”
Anyone worried that they or someone they know is a victim of CSE should call police on 101, quoting Operation Kite.