Sussex Police has launched a new initiative to appeal for help from the public in breaking child abduction cases.
Members of the public who sign up to Child Rescue Alert will receive text message alerts containing details of the missing child. The system will also interrupt scheduled TV and radio broadcasts to ask for help.
The criteria for using the scheme are stringent: for an alert to be issued a child must be under 16 and suspected to have been kidnapped.
There must be a belief that the child is in imminent danger of serious harm or death, and sufficient information available to enable the public to assist police in locating the child.
"It is no good just saying 'a little girl has gone missing'. There are hundreds of little girls so the criteria is strict," explained chief inspector Mike Alderson of Sussex police.
The message can be sent to people within 100m or 100km of an incident. If a member of the public has any information they believe is relevant or even crucial, they are asked to call 999.
Since time is a crucial factor, the sooner the police get vital information the better, and the timeliness of the alerts could prove to be the difference between life and death for a kidnapped child.
Chief inspector Alderson said: "We hope to encourage members of the public to sign up for the scheme either by their mobile phone or by email.
"It won't cost them anything bar the cost of a text message and their information is not kept by Sussex Police but by an independent company."
Sussex Police is the first force to adopt the scheme and will conduct a six-month trial. If the pilot is successful the scheme could be rolled out nationally.
Child Rescue Alert is based on a US scheme called Amber Alert, which has been credited with saving the lives of 37 children since it was introduced in Texas in 1997. It was named after nine-year-old murder victim Amber Hagerman.
Chief inspector Mike Alderson said the idea for setting up the UK scheme came after detective chief superintendent Jeremy Paine, a Crimewatch presenter who also worked on the Sarah Payne case, learnt of the effectiveness of Amber Alert during a recent visit to the US.
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