top of page
  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

When missing children are let down by the system

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

For those that don't already know much about me, from the age of ten up until I was sixteen I'd ran away from wherever I was then living around forty times.

Sure I had a load of tricks under my sleeve to help me stay undetected such as fake names and accents and taking different routes into London - but for some of those times I ran away I would be 'missing' sometimes for over six months without any communication with social workers.

I put the word 'Missing' in commas there because after some reflection on the whole thing, I'm not even sure if I really was in a sort of way. I was right there, for hundreds of thousands of people to see.

OK so in my early London days at twelve years old living among the homeless in Whitechapel - I can understand how I slipped off the radar a little bit - and when I knew that social services and the police had found out I'd been hanging out around the Whitechapel area - I hadn't made it easier for them.

Already from the start I'd been calling myself 'Toby' and sporting a fake east end accent whilst claiming I was from the area.

In my mind back then, if the police had come into the local cafes asking around about a young lad from the West Midlands then it wouldn't bring the heat on me.

But once those days were over and I left the east end, although I'd been picked up by the police and taken back home a few times, still I'm surprised even to this day about how easy overall it was to stay undetected as a child runaway whilst being sat begging at the side of the road in places such as Green Park, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden.

By the time I was fourteen it had became obvious and apparent to me that I could roam and sleep rough in the west end at all hours of day or night and no-one would really bat an eyelid.

Even police officers that had previously taken me in and sent me back home had walked past me whilst I was sat begging on Piccadilly.

One of those 'Oh no I'm busted' moments - only to see him walk on as if he couldn't even remember me.

Perhaps he knew that I'd probably only run away back to the west end anyway.

For a good part of three years on and off, I would be passing through Piccadilly Circus and past the Eros statue at least three or four times a day and often hanging out there.

Why did nobody find me there? Even after the many times I'd been taken back and they knew I'd been sleeping rough and begging in the center of London.

Sure plenty of police had stopped me over my years in the west end, and before it finally sank in that nobody had really been searching for me there, I'd managed to get away from the police checks again using fake names and accents, and made up dates and places of birth.

But it shouldn't have happened.

In a way it was my own presumptions that had helped me stay under the radar even more.

In my earliest days in the west end at thirteen years old, when I'd been sat begging and saw police officers walking towards me - I thought surely a photo of me had gone around the station. But it seemed it never had, and not once during the many many police radio checks that I'd blagged through was there ever a sniff of hearing about a thirteen to fifteen year old runaway from the midlands possibly being in the area.

But even way before then, when I was going missing at ten, eleven, twelve years old it was no wonder I hadn't really been found by anyone for so long, as they'd been putting photos being put out of me from when I was much younger and with a different haircut.

For sure I have to take some responsibility for my own actions too, but come on - I was a kid.

Perhaps if I'd felt at any point that people wanted me found, then who knows, perhaps it would have reshaped my mindset a little.

But whether it's 1998 or 2019, no young person should be able to be so hidden in plain sight, missing from there foster parents or children's home and be able to get away with being a full time beggar and rough sleeper.

Sure I was a handful, and costing social services a lot of money in secure escorts every time I was caught - which quickly changed to me visiting Westminster City Hall to collect a travel warrant if I ever wanted to come back to the kids home.

But in what is known as the most CCTV'd up part of the country and with so many police officers around back then - how on earth did I get away with it for so long.

Mad that it can really even happen ay.

I'm glad that I've just written this.

Something for those helping to find missing children to think about.

Thanks for reading.


Check out the 'My Book' section for signed copies or to to find out more about Poems From a Runaway. Also on Amazon at

#MissingChildren #Runaways #London #Police #SocialServices #MissingTeens

142 views0 comments
bottom of page