Manic Street Preachers star's sister Rachel Elias welcomes new law on missing people
When someone goes missing their loved ones are left in limbo.
Until this week they faced a complex process lasting up to seven years if they wanted to have a missing person declared legally dead.
Without that finality, families had no right to deal with any of the person’s affairs.
Now, after years of campaigning, the Presumption of Death Act has been passed by Parliament.
It will make it easier to have someone declared dead.
The Act will create one process by which a certificate of presumed death – equivalent to a death certificate – can be issued.
Here The Sun speaks to the families of missing people, who tell why this new law is so important.
Rachel Elias has been campaigning for a change in the law for years.
Her brother Richey - or Richard - Edwards, a member of the Manic Street Preachers, went missing on February 1, 1995.
Rachel, 43, said the new law means a lot to families such as hers. She said: “After Richard went missing we had no idea of the absolute hell we would have to face when it came to trying to deal with his affairs.
“Something that should have been so simple became a drawn-out affair costing thousands, involving numerous court actions and lasting years.
“It took a great emotional toll too, on a family already suffering from having had a loved one go missing. We are not alone in this, as I was to find out. Thousands of families have to go through this every year.
“Richard first became unwell in July 1994. He went into the Whitchurch Hospital in Cardiff, then to the Priory clinic in Roehampton, Surrey. He underwent about six weeks of therapy before coming out.
“He immediately went on a European tour with the band, which I don’t think he was up to, but he felt he should.
“Then Richard was to fly to New York to promote an album with James Dean Bradfield, the lead singer. They checked into a hotel in London’s Bayswater.
“But the next morning James discovered that Richard had checked out and disappeared.
“On Valentine’s Day, Richard’s car was found in the car park of the old Severn Bridge. We have never heard from him from the day he disappeared. There have been sightings over the years but they have all come to nothing.
“After Richard went missing we realised quite quickly there were practical things that had to be dealt with - bank accounts, his flat, his publishing rights - but until he was declared dead we could do nothing.
“His flat was just left rotting, we couldn’t rent it out or sell it. His direct debits kept going out, we didn’t even know what was going on with his bank account because we weren’t allowed to look at it.
“After three years we decided to apply to the courts for a Grant of Representation (a document to prove the authority to administer someone’s estate).
“It is a very strange situation to be in because you don’t want to accept that person is dead, you want to go on searching for them, but to be able to handle their affairs you have to have them declared dead.
“You have to swear on a Bible that you believe them to be dead. Emotionally it is very difficult. And as we found out, it was not made any easier by the complicated legal process you had to go through to have that presumption of death.
In fact, there was not one clear process at all.
“Even legal experts found it hard to advise us. There wasn’t a straightforward, easy way to do it and, when a family are suffering an experience like this, you really need that.
“I have met wives and husbands with families who had joint mortgages, joint bank accounts and other things but were tied.
“They could do nothing because their partner was missing. Some who were joint tenants in rented accommodation were facing eviction. They couldn’t even have their marriages dissolved if they wanted to.
“To have Richard declared dead, we had to make an application to a court then present overwhelming evidence to a judge as to why we believed he was.
“We also had to show evidence that every sighting had been followed up. I had to gather letters and anything else that proved we had - this was before the internet and emails.
“We had to show the judge what efforts we had made to find Richard.
“We had to provide evidence of his mental state, dates when he was in hospital, names of doctors who had treated him. This is all aimed at preventing fraudulent claims. When we were campaigning for a simpler system in the UK, insurance companies claimed it would make fraud easier.
“But in Scotland, where they have had a Presumption of Death Act since 1977, there has only ever been one such case “For us, having Richard declared dead was a very exhausting process and we found it hard to get any advice as we went along. Eventually we were able to have him declared dead. It cost us £3,000 and months of hard work.
“I have met families who have paid treble that and failed in the courts. I joined the campaign for a better system because I felt it is not fair for families such as ours to have to go through such a harrowing process.
“It needed to be simple and clear. Under the new system there is one process through which to apply for a presumption of death, and you apply for it once and once only.
“This way it is a much easier and less emotional. Applying for presumption of death doesn’t mean you are giving up on the person. It doesn’t mean that you are going to stop looking for them.
“It just means you can deal with their affairs while they are not there. It doesn’t feel like the missing person is dead after you get the certificate.
“I will never stop looking for Richard. I will never give up on trying to find out what happened to him.”