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March 2020





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NBCC/NCA Bulletin: Child Rescue Alert: July 20 2020

National Business Crime Centre / NCA Bulletin: Child Rescue Alert

Information to potential CRA Partners

Child Rescue Alert (CRA) is based on an American concept called “Amber Alert” and was first piloted in 2005 by Sussex Police following the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne in 2000. CRA is intended to alert members of the public to an abduction or other high risk disappearance of a child quickly and to provide a mechanism for policing to be able to receive and prioritise critical information from the public. The police are the trusted source for information dissemination and for a CRA to be successful the host force must have the ability to secure, risk assess and action  incoming public information.

CRA is a partnership between the police, the media and the public that seeks the assistance of the public where it is feared that there is a real, immediate risk to the life of a child. The aim is to quickly engage an entire community via the media (including social media channels) in the search for a child, an offender or any specified vehicle through reports of relevant information to the police. The CRA is flexible and can be used in a targeted way in one or more specific geographic locations, or can be launched immediately on a regional or national level or grown organically as information is received or the level of media response dictates. It is a dynamic tool for consideration by a senior investigating officer (SIO) in the most high risk and problematic cases. By the use of the CRA brand, the effectiveness of publicity will be greater and hold more public attention than other  high risk media appeals.

The intention of activating a CRA is to recover a child quickly where it is feared that there is a real, immediate risk to life. The recovering and safeguarding of a child is paramount and arrest of the perpetrator is an ancillary benefit.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) Investigations Command manages and is responsible for the delivery of CRA on behalf of UK policing. The NCA offers advice and operational support when a police force is considering the launch of an alert with 24 hour tactical advice available through its control centre

CRA is a tactical option for a SIO to consider as part of an overt police response to the most high risk cases of missing or abducted children where the release of specific information to the public via the media may assist in the safe recovery of a child.

The priority must always be to rescue a child, although it is still important to give due consideration to the impact that such a high profile media alert will have on a child in the future. Contingencies must be in place to ensure that police services are prepared properly to receive and investigate a high volume engagement with the public. Police forces must also be in a position to respond to and maximise the investigative opportunities arising from contacts with the public. Self-generated social and internet messages cannot be managed or stopped but a strong message from the police can provide authoritative and definitive information.

High-risk missing and abducted children cases will always  attract a high level of public and media interest, with the potential to  result in a high level of contact with the police and a proliferation of messages circulated by interested parties on social media.


Criteria for launching a Child Rescue Alert

All three criteria must be met before a CRA incident can be launched:

  1. The child is apparently under 18 years old

For the purposes of CRA the definition of a child as any person under the age of 18 will apply throughout the UK (including Scotland where a child is otherwise a person under 16) in line with the European definition for child alerts.

It is accepted that on some occasions it may not be possible t confirm the exact age of the child, in which case the individual circumstances of the case will be subject to the judgement of the SIO.

  1. There is a real, immediate risk to life

That the circumstances are such, or there is information to suggest, that the child is likely to come to serious harm through their own action or the actions of another(s), or they may die as a result of these actions. 

  1. There is sufficient information available to enable the public to assist police in locating the child

The alert should not be used if the information available is too vague or general as this would result in a large number of contacts with the police that are likely to be of little assistance to the investigation.

Descriptive features of the victim and / or suspect, their images or sufficient information about a vehicle to make it distinguishable will assist in getting relevant contact from the public.  It is important to give as much clarity as possible to minimise the volume of inappropriate contacts with the police.   Good quality recent images should be obtained as soon as possible.

 Overview of  launching a Child Rescue Alert

CRA is flexible in its application and can be used in a targeted way in one or more specific geographic locations. It can be activated immediately at a regional or national level or grown organically as information is received or the level of media response dictates. Through the use of the CRA brand, the effectiveness should be greater and hold more public attention than other high risk media appeals. While a decision to launch is the responsibility of a SIO, it is imperative that consideration of activating and undertaking early actions start as soon as a CRA is being considered as a tactical option. A missing or abducted child and subsequent CRA may be a critical incident for a police force and if the assistance of other police forces is requested, the incident may have an impact on those other services as well. Early engagement with the police force media team is imperative and there should be no delay in business as usual media appeals whilst a CRA is put in place.

The focus underlying all actions at this point must be to maximise the chances of recovering the child and ensuring that all relevant processes are put in place to manage the activation.

National Crime Agency Tactical Advice

The NCA provides an on-call tactical advisory service which is available all day and every day and contact with an advisor should be considered at the earliest opportunity.  An adviser will be able to discuss the criteria for the use of CRA, assist with getting the sequence of launch events organised, act as a point of reference for detailed requirements associated with the launch of a CRA and identify other sources of expert help available within the NCA that may be of benefit.


Police force media teams must be contacted at the earliest opportunity and are integral to the policing media response. The circumstances of the incident leading to the CRA may indicate that it should be initially launched as targeted alert with a consideration to grow if required. Experience shows that where the story is newsworthy and captures the public imagination, it may take on an extremely high profile, generating a significant number of contacts with the police very quickly. The police must proactively cascade accurate information about the case to the media to counter the inaccuracies that will inevitably arise from the proliferation of publicly-generated information.   This makes the CRA even more valuable as it is designed as a trusted brand to deliver a defined message with the ability to receive incoming information which can be assessed and actioned appropriately.

Appeals to the public for information should clearly indicate that the purpose of the alert is to locate a child and only information that will lead to this should be provided. Careful focussing of the media messages will assist in limiting the number of irrelevant and unhelpful contacts.

In summary in order to protect the brand and the effectiveness of this tactical policing option in the most high risk cases of missing and abduction children it is anticipated that it would be launched perhaps 4 or 5 times a year. A similar alert system called Amber Alert exists in countries across Europe and in 2019 there were 4 alerts in The Netherlands. If you require further information please do not hesitate to make contact

Neil Dodds

Senior Officer

Missing Persons Unit

National Investigative Capabilities

Investigations Command

The Aspen, National Crime Agency

Wyboston Lakes, Great North Road, Wyboston, Beds MK44 3BY


M: +44 (0) 7500032108