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Girlfriend of man who disappeared in Peru receives declaration of presumed death

By 31 March 2022News

The girlfriend of a man who disappeared while travelling in South America more than a decade ago has been granted a declaration of his presumed death.

The man, referred to in the anonymised judgement as ‘P’, grew up in the south of England. He spent a decade working as a flight attendant, then become involved in the establishment of a restaurant in Barcelona.

Then in 2008, he began a relationship with ‘D’. They lived together but did not marry. D eventually become pregnant, giving birth to a son, ‘C’, in March 2010. P was a dedicated father, spending the majority of his time with D and C in England, but making occasional trips to Barcelona in connection with the restaurant. During this time he maintained a good relationship with his parents, aunt, and brother.

But fate intervened in 2011 when P went on an extended trip to South America with a friend referred to as ‘G’. The two men travelled in Columbia and Ecuador and then on to Peru. Initially, P was in regular contact with D. But then, after a final text from capital city of Peru, Lima, on May 16, all communications from P suddenly ceased. An extensive search by the Peruvian authorities, alongside parallel efforts by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, yielded no clues.

Sitting in the High Court, Mr Justice Poole explained:

“Notwithstanding many enquiries and attempts to trace him, there is no information at all as to what happened to P on or after 16 May 2011.”

The Judge added:

“G’s communications with his loved ones also ceased. Neither man has been seen or heard of by family or friends since then.”

Since P’s disappearance, his father and grandmother have both passed away. The latter left him a small inheritance.

Finally, after a decade, D brought applied for a legal declaration that her former partner could be presumed dead. She did so as the ‘litigation friend’ of their son C, who is now eleven years old. The term ‘litigation friend’ refers to someone who conducts legal proceedings on behalf of children, or adults who are unable to do so themselves due to illness or disability.

Mr Justice Poole approved the declaration, saying

“The awful disappearance of P over ten years ago now falls to be considered by reference to the Presumption of Death Act 2013.”

As the name suggests, this legislation allows the family members of missing loved ones to apply for a declaration that they are presumed to be dead.

In order to obtain this, they must demonstrate that the person in question:

“(a) is thought to have died, or

(b) has not been known to be alive for a period of at least 7 years.”

A declaration of presumed death is usually sought in order to allow a person’s will to be administrated and/ or their estate distributed to their heirs. Before the introduction of the Presumption of Death Act, it was very difficult to obtain a death certificate in the absence of a body.

Section 2.3 of the Act allows the courts to declare that a person died on a specific date if there is evidence to that effect. Mr Justice Poole noted:

“It is arguable that the evidence proves that P has died given that there was a sudden cessation of communication which has now persisted for over ten years in the context of a man who had a partner and young child, and family, to whom he was close. “

But, he continued, there was still no clear evidence of the fate that befell P and G beyond the stark fact of their disappearance, so it would be more appropriate to make use of section 2.4. This states:

“Where the court—

(a)is satisfied that the missing person has not been known to be alive for a period of at least 7 years, but

(b)is not satisfied that the missing person has died,

the finding must be that the missing person is presumed to have died at the end of the period of 7 years beginning with the day after the day on which he or she was last known to be alive.”

Here ‘not satisfied’ means there is not sufficient evidence to establish the fact of death beyond doubt. P was therefore declared legally dead exactly seven years from the last day on which he was known to be alive: 16 May 2011.

Mr Justice Poole declared:

“I shall make an order declaring the presumption of P’s death at midnight on 16 May 2018 … The order shall be sent to the Registrar General so that an entry will be made in the Register of Presumed Deaths and the Registrar General will secure that that entry will be included in the index of the registers of deaths.”

He concluded by extending his condolences to P’s family.

Read the judgement here.