Broadcast with little fanfare, Reported Missing (BBC One) has been one of the BBC’s better documentary series of recent years. Each week it follows a police investigation from the first phone call from a worried friend or relative, to the case conclusion. Sometimes there is a happy ending of sorts, and sometimes there is a tragedy. The reasons for the disappearances are varied and complex.
This opening episode to the third series, however, felt as if it was not giving us the full picture. Mark Smith, a 56-year-old former soldier who ran a veterans’ charity, went missing after posting on Facebook that he wanted to end it all. He suffered from PTSD and flashbacks from his time serving in Northern Ireland, and it wasn’t the first time he had gone missing. But his wife, Denise, said he had been behaving aggressively and something about this one rang alarm bells.
There was plenty here for viewers interested in police procedurals: the methodical trawling of CCTV and phone records, conducting interviews in search of clues. Cheshire Police had two fears – that Smith could harm himself, and that he could harm others. This second scenario was not spelt out explicitly, but when the officers identified Smith on CCTV at Warrington station they eyed his rucksack with suspicion. They learned that he was associated with someone rumoured to have a collection of crossbows, swords and knives.
Then, midway through, the police investigation changed focus. In the months before his disappearance, Smith had been targeted by a Facebook group that accused him of fabricating his military record and questioned the finances of his charity. Could they have been the reasons behind Smith’s mental crisis?
Smith was eventually traced to Aviemore, where he had sought help from a relative, and explained on camera that the pressures of his mental health, his relationship and running the charity had become too much for him. A postscript informed us that he was later arrested on suspicion of theft but no evidence was found, and that the Ministry of Defence had increased his pension after acknowledging that Smith’s PTSD was caused by his military service. All of this warranted more attention, not least the “Walter Mitty hunters” of Facebook, but the documentary-makers chose not to pursue it further.