I beg to move,
That this House has considered the missing person case of Cathryn Holdsworth.
It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Mr Vickers. Cathryn was a 72-year-old woman who went missing in September 2017 from the Illingworth area of Halifax. As the investigation into her disappearance is now into its sixth year, I have secured this debate in order to once again raise the profile of her case in the hope that someone somewhere knows something and comes forward to share information. It is difficult to talk today about the case of a missing woman without sending our heartfelt condolences to the family of Nicola Bulley. I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through. I am sure all Members will want to join me in letting her loved ones know that they are very much in our thoughts.
Cathryn Holdsworth lived alone and almost always left the house with the assistance of a walking frame. She had numerous ailments that required her to take regular medication. She is 5 feet 2 inches, of medium build, with what has been described as very short, speckled grey hair. The last confirmed sighting of Cathryn was captured on closed circuit television on Saturday 9 September 2017 as she entered the Tesco store in Halifax town centre. Police know that she used a bus pass to head towards home. CCTV from the bus was unavailable, so could not confirm exactly where Cathryn got off the bus. However, it is assumed that she reached home because her coat, ear muffs and walking frame that she was using in the CCTV footage were found inside her property.
In the following days Cathryn’s neighbours were asked to take delivery of a parcel for Cathryn when a delivery driver could not get an answer at her address. The neighbours grew increasingly concerned when they could not reach Cathryn over a number of days. They officially reported her missing to the police on 19 September 2017. That leaves a window of 10 days in which Cathryn could have gone missing. I spoke to Cathryn’s neighbours ahead of this debate today and they gave me a strong sense of a woman who was vulnerable. She had had falls in the house previously and often wore an alarm around her neck to alert help if she needed it. They felt it was highly unlikely that she would have left the house without the aid of her walking frame, which was still inside the house.
Police have undertaken extensive work to search her home address and the surrounding area for any signs of Cathryn, but it has not provided any answers. There have been public appeals for information, including social media campaigns, as well as bank, phone and CCTV inquiries, which have generated some lines of inquiry but ultimately no conclusions. Cathryn is understood to have had links to Blackpool and Cornwall, and appeals for information have been shared in those areas. She also has links to Brighouse in the neighbouring constituency to Halifax, where she lived for a number of years and owns a property.
In May 2020 the appeal to find Cathryn was relaunched. Detective Inspector Clare Turner said:
“Whilst considerable time has passed since Cathryn’s disappearance, we are still continuing our efforts to find her. We know Cathryn had previous links to Blackpool in Lancashire and Cornwall. However…I would ask for this appeal to be shared far and wide in order to reach as many people as possible. Our number one priority is Cathryn’s welfare; we believe her to be vulnerable and we are continuing to appeal”
for anyone with information to get in contact.
I want to thank those who have worked on the investigation, with special thanks to Detective Chief Inspector Samantha Lindsay, Detective Inspector Jarrod McSharry and Inspector Jim Graham for their assistance in preparing for this speech. I also thank two of Cathryn’s neighbours, Muriel and Martina, who spoke to me ahead of today to help me build up a better understanding of Cathryn and the timeline leading up to her disappearance.
The Minister will appreciate that, unlike on other occasions, I am not looking to him for answers in this debate. However, I hope that in advance of today’s debate his officials have had the opportunity to speak to West Yorkshire police about the investigation and that he will join me in urging the public to share information about Cathryn and to think back to 2017, and for anyone who might know anything about her disappearance or who is able to offer information that might assist the investigation to come forward so that we might finally be able to find Cathryn.
I commend the hon. Lady for securing a debate on this case. I am aware of it, having done some research before I came down. I commend her determination on behalf this lady. Does she agree that the case of this vulnerable missing lady is not only heartbreaking, but reveals a clear failure in procedures and systems across the board that need to be challenged and, ultimately, changed? Will the hon. Lady urge the Minister to use this opportunity and example to prevent further cases such as this? This case is horrendous and terrible, but it should lead to a change that makes it easier for others in future.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. He is always so diligent in his participation in these debates. He makes an incredibly important point. I have had the opportunity to speak to police officers and those investigating this case, and have put pressing questions to them. I am satisfied that all lines of inquiry have been and are being investigated.
When researching for this debate, I was struck by how many missing people are still out there. There are still so many investigations without conclusions as to the whereabouts of lots of vulnerable people. It is absolutely right that we continue to ensure that the specialist training and resources are there to support those investigations, so that we can bring closure and place a spotlight on those really difficult cases where we still need to do so much for finances. The hon. Member is right to make that point.
It falls to me to say that, if people have further information they would like to share with the police, I urge them to call 101 and ask to speak to Calderdale criminal investigation department, or to email firstname.lastname@example.org. I urge everybody to take part in sharing information about this campaign, in the hope that we can finally shed some light on what has happened to Cathryn.
It is a pleasure to serve once again under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers. I start by thanking and congratulating the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on securing this debate on what is, as she said, a particularly poignant topic, given the tragic death of Nicola Bulley. I wish to repeat the hon. Lady’s sentiments in sending our sympathies, condolences and thoughts to Nicola’s family at what must be an extremely difficult and distressing time.
I also fully echo and endorse the hon. Lady’s sentiments in encouraging members of the public who may have information about Cathryn’s disappearance to come forward, dial 101 and contact Calderdale CID. If people do not want to contact the police directly, they can contact Crimestoppers and provide information anonymously. I fully echo her plea and appeal to the public to come forward with any information they might have.
In response to the hon. Lady’s question, I can confirm that Home Office officials have been in contact with West Yorkshire police about this case relatively recently. As she said, West Yorkshire police have been energetically trying to identify where Cathryn may be, but have so far been unable to locate her, in what is clearly a very distressing case.
Beyond repeating the hon. Lady’s plea for the public to come forward with information, it is worth saying, partly in response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), that we are concerned to ensure that missing persons in general are found. The police have an important role to play in that, but identifying missing persons, particularly those with vulnerabilities—as they do in many cases, including Cathryn—has to be a multi-agency response. The hon. Lady may have had discussions about this with Catherine Hankinson, the deputy chief constable for West Yorkshire, who happens to be the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for missing persons. Deputy Chief Constable Hankinson is clear that close collaboration is critical. Investigating officers will often need input from other agencies, such as health and social care, to build a picture around the missing individual. As part of the work in this area, the National Police Chiefs’ Council has published a missing adults framework, which sets out a blueprint for how such multi-agency work should take place.
In her response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Strangford, the hon. Lady rightly talked about the need for proper training for police officers in this specialist area. The Home Office is funding the College of Policing’s training for senior officers and staff who work on public protection and safeguarding issues, which include missing persons cases, as well as the vulnerability knowledge and practice programme, which identifies and shares best practice across all forces. Those programmes are designed to help leaders and frontline professionals understand the complexity, sensitivity and risk involved in this area of work.
There has been some recent legislation in this area: the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, which gives families and friends the ability to manage and protect a missing person’s property, and the Presumption of Death Act 2013, which enables families to have closure in cases of very long-term missing loved ones. There is training and best practice work through the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to ensure that best practice is being followed.
It remains only for me to repeat the plea that the hon. Member for Halifax made in her excellent speech: if anyone in West Yorkshire, Halifax or anywhere more widely has information about Cathryn or any missing people—the vast majority are found within 28 days, but there are people who are not found and are still missing—they should contact the police or, if they want to do it anonymously, Crimestoppers. The public also have a role to play in helping the authorities to identify missing people, who can then be looked after in the appropriate way. I am grateful for the opportunity to make that point, and I thank the hon. Lady again for raising this extremely distressing and important case.
Question put and agreed to.