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Reported Missing viewers left ‘sickened’ and ‘uncomfortable’ by police’s ‘accusatory tone’

BBC viewers have criticised the ‘uncomfortable’ moment a police officer questioned whether a missing veteran with PTSD was actually a ‘fantasist’ who faked his service after finding out that he is being targeted by ‘Walter Mitty’ hunters.

Reported Missing, which aired last night at 9pm on BBC One, followed the disappearance of Blue Apple Veterans Association charity founder and former soldier Mark Smith, from Warrington. 

However, while searching for his whereabouts after he posted on social media that he wanted to end it all, Cheshire police discovered that Mark, who served in Northern Ireland, was being trolled by a Facebook group dedicated to exposing those who fraudulently claim to have fought for their country.

Despite the accusations being false, it resulted in Sgt Helen Hayes, who was running the case, to question whether Mark was just a ‘fantasist’. The veteran was thankfully found in Scotland, having travelled there to clear his head and visit a cousin. 

Viewers were left shocked at the questioning, with one person writing: ‘Sickened by the judgemental, uncompassionate and unprofessional attitude of certain officers. Hung him out to dry based on false Facebook posts and reinforced benefit and mental health stigmas.’

Another wrote: ‘Instead of looking they end up side-tracked investigating him because of some Facebook people with pitchforks. 

‘Automatically suspicious/looking down on them because they’re on benefits. Glad most saw what I did. The woman was vile and should not be working for the police.’

Mark and his wife Denise receive benefits since the veteran is classed as disabled, but after hearing the various allowances they are given, a shocked Sgt Hayes commented: ‘They receive all that’ – leading some viewers to label the officer judgemental.

‘Female old bill more interested in Facebook rumours, what benefits he gets and how much the charity makes,’ one person wrote on Twitter.

Another said: ‘I really didn’t understand the accusatory tone of this episode. So pleased Mark turned up safe and wish him well.’

While a third added: ‘I hate the way the female police officer questioned Mark Smith’s mental health diagnosis and was so judgemental when she heard they were receiving benefits. Mark and his wife are entitled to them.’

A Cheshire Police spokesperson said: ‘During missing from home investigations, the number one priority is the safety and welfare of the individual – and that again was the case here.

‘As part of our investigations to trace missing people, all possibilities are explored as to why that person would want to go missing, as this can help officers establish where that person may be and what their intentions are. This can sometimes include criminal allegations that have been made against that individual. 

‘Further allegations were made which did not feature in the programme and an investigation was launched. However, we were satisfied that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and no further action was taken.

‘We were pleased that Mark returned home safely, and hope that he and his family have been able to get the support that they need.’

The search for Mark begins after the police get a call from his friend Mark Moran, who works alongside him at the Blue Apple Veterans Association charity he set up with his wife Denise.

The pal explains that Mark suffers with PTSD and hasn’t been seen for almost 24 hours, after leaving both his phone and wallet behind. 

Moran explains that Mark took cash and his sim card, the office paperwork has been left perfectly in order, and he found the CCTV unplugged.

The former soldier, who walked out of his home after an argument with his wife, has gone missing before but Denise worries that this time feels very different. 

She’s concerned that Mark may be taking deliberate steps to stop anyone from tracking him down and preventing him from carrying out his threat.  

A major investigation is sparked as police try to workout where Mark might be, with his wife revealing he’s ‘been on self-destruct for weeks. 

During an interview with Denise, police discover that Mark has recently received social media hate mail from a group claiming he has lied about his military career. 

Mark became paranoid after a Facebook group hunting ‘Walter Mittys’ started trying to disprove he served in the army. He was also accused of using the Blue Apple Veterans charity to fraudulently make money.

Denise explains: ‘There’s so much pressure. We set up the charity five years ago and we’ve come under a lot of stress. 

‘Recently we’ve had a lot of hate mail, and stuff from the Walter Mitty site and that’s caused us a lot of stress and a lot of pressure.

‘It’s a group on Facebook and they’ve got about 35,000 members and they’re trying to disprove that Mark even served which is nonsense. 

‘Mark’s profile on Instagram does read unbelievable and they attacked him saying he’s never served. He’s gone even more paranoid.’

‘The Walter Mitty hunters, they’ve tried to discredit him and Mark wouldn’t fight back, he didn’t need to prove anything. But as much as Mark said he wasn’t affected, he obviously was. It is bullying and it shouldn’t be allowed.’

Upon discovering about the social media account, Sgt Hayes says: ‘This Facebook page, they really don’t hold back. I imagine it’s set up by people that are proud to have served their country. 

‘Looking at the Facebook page, and the various people that have commented, it does raise a number of questions to the police and the investigation because if he’s dishonest about his military service, what else is he lying about. 

‘Are we actually looking for someone that’s been exposed to horrendous things and is suffering really bad with mental health… or are we actually looking for a fantasist?’

Thankfully, Mark had travelled to Aviemore in Scotland to visit a relative, who contacted police to confirm the veteran was OK. He returned home a week later.

Speaking about his disappearance at the end of the episode, Mark says ‘the pressure was too great’ and felt his relationships with his wife and children were suffering.

‘I started mistrusting everyone. I felt a failure. I couldn’t cope with the guilt of failing. Everything around me was collapsing,’ says Mark, who confesses that he cried during his entire journey to Scotland.

‘It was a battle. Although I didn’t want to die. But I felt that was the only answer, that was on the table.

‘When I have this illness it’s all clouded. I can’t see loved ones. All I can see is the past and I feel haunted by it.’

‘I saw Denise when I got back. We both cried – she knows I love her – and then I started thinking about what I’d done and that I don’t want do die as I actually love living. 

‘People that start saying things that aren’t true… people don’t know me. So it was all lies. I don’t disagree with the mismanagement as I was running things on my own, but theft, not a chance.’

He added: ‘I told [Denise] that I can’t do the charity, anymore. It’s finished. I always said to Denise if we can save one life it’s been worth it and that’s what we did, we saved lives. I’m very proud and we know we can hold our heads high.’ 

A postscript informed viewers that Mark was later arrested on suspicion of theft but ‘no evidence was found to substantiate any allegation against him’.

It was also revealed that the Ministry of Defence had increased Mark’s pension after acknowledging that his PTSD was caused by his military service.

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