Newsmaker: Back from the brink - Paul Tuohy, Chief executive, National Missing Persons Helpline

Graham Willgoss

Ambitious plans for a national range of services.

The National Missing Persons Helpline was hours from extinction when the Home Office stepped in with the £300,000 cash injection the charity needed to avoid insolvency in March.

"In some respects, it was the best thing that ever happened to us," says Paul Tuohy, its new chief executive. "It finally made everyone wake up and realise that we do provide a vital service. Hopefully, we can now use that to lever funds from statutory bodies to allow us to move forward and develop."

Tuohy has big plans for an organisation that he believes fell into dire financial straits because of the widely held conviction that it receives core funding from the Government.

"That's not yet the case," says Tuohy. "We are a key resource for the police and social services, and in doing that we are saving the taxpayer money. That is why it has to be recognised that this charity needs and deserves core funding from central bodies."

NMPH is looking for £800,000 from the Home Office to help create a national strategy for missing persons. The charity has already begun a Home Office-funded central database for the police, something Tuohy intends to persuade every regional force in the country to sign up to.

"NMPH should be a central resource for information," he says. "But everybody's working away on their own agendas. We need to create a national framework, otherwise you get duplication of services."

Tuohy wants other charities whose remit includes missing people to share their skills. "Nothing frustrates me more than charities duplicating their work," he says. "Charities ought to be much better at sharing their plans."

Tuohy left school at 17 to take a job with the civil service, before becoming an appeals administrator with Cafod. He spent four years as a fundraiser for the YMCA, and a further two at King's College Hospital.

"After two years at KCH, I wanted to get back into bigger charities," he says. "I missed the culture."

He was employed as a corporate fundraiser for the RNIB before holding the position of director of fundraising with Quit, and then International Care and Relief, with which he worked in Kosovo during the Bosnian war, and Action Medical Research. He was then appointed the first chief executive of the Drake Music Project, a charity that provides disabled people who cannot play traditional instruments with the opportunity to make their own music.

"Drake was in dire straits and nobody wanted the job," says Tuohy. "But it was similar to NMPH in that it was about managing an organisation to be stable enough to grow and push on. People saw that you can take a charity that looks like it might not have a future, bring it back and make it a success."

Tuohy transformed Drake's fortunes in a year. He exudes confidence in his ability to make a success of whatever he does. "I see such massive potential for a charity that only months ago was in real trouble," he says. "Sometimes a charity gets to a point where it needs to change and, if it doesn't, there is a danger that it might expire."

Tuohy intends to rebrand NMPH because, he says, it is a service that provides much more than just a helpline.

"It needs to encapsulate everything we're doing," he says. "We provide facial reconstruction and age progression, we trace people missing from care, we work with care workers and the police, we provide statistical evidence and we are a national database for the police.

"That's not a helpline - that's a national charity dealing with missing people. Full stop."

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