Police investigating missing persons cases should look into information they receive from psychics, clairvoyants and witches, according to official new guidelines.
The College of Policing, which governs training for officers across England and Wales, said police hunting someone who has disappeared should evaluate reports from people who claim to have “extrasensory perception”.
But the guidelines warn that such information should not be allowed to become a “distraction … unless it can be verified”.
The consultation paper, which sets out a template for how police should conduct inquiries for people reported missing, said: “High-profile missing person investigations nearly always attract the interest of psychics and others, such as witches and clairvoyants, stating that they possess extrasensory perception.
“Any information received from psychics should be evaluated in the context of the case, and should never become a distraction to the overall investigation and search strategy unless it can be verified.
“These contacts usually come from well-intentioned people, but the motive of the individual should always be ascertained, especially where financial gain is included.
“The person’s methods should be asked for, including the circumstances in which they received the information and any accredited successes.”
A spokesman for charity Missing People, said: “We respect the fact that some families of missing people will want to try every avenue in order to find a loved one.
“Research based on interviews with the families of missing people conducted by the charity shows that no interviewees reported significant findings or comfort from the experience of consulting psychics or mediums.”
Police consulted a medium over the disappearance of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who vanished from Walton-on-Thames in March 2002 and whose body was discovered six months later.
Similar techniques were used by Portugese detectives in the hunt for Madeleine McCann, the three-year-old who vanished from a holiday apartment in the Algarve in 2007.
Several psychics contributed information to police in the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper in the later Seventies and early Eighties.
Another aspect of the College of Policing guidelines sets out how officers may need to get permission to look at a missing person’s Facebook page.
Examining social media accounts could amount to “surveillance” unless detectives go through the proper steps, it says.
“Information gathered about the person’s online activity may provide crucial clues about their intentions and possible destinations while missing, but the police do not always have the legal right to access this information,” it says.
“Although no legal authority is required to view information that an individual has made publicly available on a social media site, regularly reviewing and recording a person’s information may be deemed to be surveillance, and could require Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act authorisation.
“It should also be considered that viewing such information can be traced back to the computer used, and where involvement in criminality is suspected, advice should be sought before any online work is undertaken.”
It adds: “When social media is identified as being relevant to a missing person investigation, it is recommended that contact is made with the social network provider … and that the assistance of the social network in question is sought wherever possible.”