What to do when someone goes missing in Tenerife

Thankfully there are generally very few cases of people who go missing in Tenerife, but when it happens it is terrible for all concerned, and when family and friends are either unable to speak Spanish or aren’t even in Spain, it can be really traumatic. That dreadful situation is often made even worse because no-one knows what to do or whom to turn to for help, and therefore, people often turn instead to social media: this is a great way of spreading the word around but can lead to greater confusion if the correct official procedures aren’t followed first.

And so, in the hopefully very unlikely case that you ever need help to locate a missing friend or family member in Tenerife, your first call has to be to the police. If you’re in the UK, you should contact the British police who will themselves report the matter to the Spanish police via Interpol. Friends and family who are actually in Spain should call either of the two main Spanish police forces, the Policía Nacional – phone 091 – and the Guardia Civil – phone 062. Please note that there is also a Local Police (Policía Local) but these are local authority employees who won’t be able to assist in such a case. Do bear in mind the possibility that a UK mobile might not be able to access 091 or 062, and sometimes these forces don’t have English speaking staff answering, and so if there is any problem in communication, the best option is to call 112 because the emergency services control room has English speaking call handlers who can make initial enquiries such as checking with hospitals and who will offer advice about where to go to present the “denuncia” (the official report of the person being missing).

There is, however, another important phone call you should consider making at a very early stage, and that is to the British Consulate. Although a Consulate does not have investigative authority abroad, consular officers perform essential services that the police cannot necessarily provide in assisting families. People sometimes don’t understand that consular personnel can’t help in the search itself because they can only act within the limits of their official Foreign Office role but within those limits they can advise about what to do both here and in the UK, offer support and information, and provide vital liaison for visitors and/or non-Spanish speaking residents dealing with Spanish authorities and hospitals. The British Consulate in Tenerife is based in Plaza Weyler in Santa Cruz, and their phone number is +34 928 26 25 08, or if you’re in the UK 020 7008 1500. There is also information from Gov.UK on missing persons abroad HERE.

The public is often advised, or there is at least a frequent perception of such advice, that it is best to wait a couple of days before reporting a missing person. The police, however, say that it is never too early to report a disappearance, and that the sooner they’re informed the greater the chance of finding someone alive and well. Certainly, when it comes to children, or if the missing person has physical or mental health issues then it is even more essential to report their disappearance as soon as possible. Once the primary authorities are informed then it can be useful to engage with social media and missing persons agencies like SOS Desaparecidos Canarias (website HERE) with specifically Canarian branch on Facebook HERE; you might also consider trying the Lucie Blackman Trust HERE.

When someone is reporting a missing person, the British Consulate encourages them to supply recent pictures. The police themselves will benefit from images, and in terms of social media and Missing Persons organizations which rely heavily on images they will be invaluable. It could also be a good idea to compose a list of information to help those searching, and the following are some ideas of the type of detail that could be useful:

  • Where was the missing person staying? Has anyone there been asked if they have any information or knowledge about where the missing person might have been intending to go?
  • Was the missing person here on holiday with friends or living here with someone, or with known neighbours? Have any of these been contacted?
  • Does the missing person have social media accounts? Have they been updated or posted in since the person went missing?
  • Is there any information that could be helpful to identify where they might be?
  • In addition, it’s essential to provide as much specific information as possible such as full name, date of birth, height, weight and/or build, physical description, planned itinerary if known, insurance details if known, time and nature of last contact, what the missing person was wearing when last seen if known, phone number, and any social media accounts.

Finally, regardless of how difficult it might be in the circumstances, try not to despair or panic. The vast majority of missing persons are found safe and well, their “disappearance” a matter of losing track of time or their phone, or missing a transport connection, or simply feeling a need to go off-radar for a little while. Indeed the British Consulate stresses that if the missing person is found, and is of age and not vulnerable (this includes a huge variety of situations), they are unable to divulge information about their whereabouts without their permission: as they say, some people choose to “disappear” for a variety of reasons and their privacy is guaranteed. Mostly, though, the best advice is to go through the proper motions with the appropriate authorities as described above and try to remain calm and positive. Everyone will be seeking a positive outcome and will be prepared to help to their utmost ability to achieve it.

I am grateful to the Consular team for their collaboration in writing this piece.