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Patrick Warren and David Spencer: Missing children and the media

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman Image copyright PA
Image caption Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were what the media would regard as "ideal victims"

Patrick Warren, 11, and David Spencer, 13, went missing in 1996 and are now presumed dead. But why did their case not receive more media attention at the time?


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Unlike high profile missing children or child murder cases, such as Madeleine McCann or Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, the boys' story received little coverage beyond the local press.

Chris Greer, professor of criminology at City University London, said it was perhaps because the boys did not fit the mould of the "ideal victim".

"Paddy and David didn't seem to fit the profile of the types of missing children that get national media attention," he said.

"They were boys, they were from a working-class estate, whereas Jessica and Holly were pretty girls from stable, middle-class backgrounds whose parents were willing and able to go on national media and provide impassioned pleas.

"From a journalist's point of view, their newsworthiness was much greater."

Karen Shalev-Green, director of the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons, described the disparity in press interest as "missing white girl syndrome".

"With news outlets internationally, the more angelic and well behaved and innocent they are, the more likely it is that they get coverage.

"If it is two boys, you think they're goofing around or they've run away and there's a little bit of an element that boys might be more self-sufficient."

However, Prof Greer said it is not as simple as girls make headlines and boys not.

He cited the 900 articles written about Holly and Jessica in the first two weeks of their disappearance, compared to 60 written about the murder of working class runaway, Hannah Williams in 2001.

He said only a tiny majority of victims were ever regarded as "ideal victims".

"The national campaigns mounted in the wake of disappearances, like Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman or Milly Dowler - which received unprecedented global media attention - are very much the exception.

"It may well be that the news coverage received by Patrick and David is the norm."


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