Conspiracy theorists hinder search for British teen missing in Tenerife

Jay Slater (right) with his mother Debbie Duncan
Jay Slater (right) with his mother Debbie Duncan

The search for a missing British teenager in Tenerife has entered its fifth day as more than half a million people joined a group that has begun posting bizarre theories online about his disappearance.

Jay Slater, 19, had attended a music festival on the Spanish island but vanished on Monday morning after telling a friend he was lost in the mountains and desperately thirsty.

Family and friends have flown out to the island to help in the search as helicopters, rescue dogs and drones were being used to scour the parched terrain at his last known location.

Mr Slater, from Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, called his friend Lucy Mae Law at 8.30am on Monday after they had both attended the NRG music festival. He told her he was “lost in the mountains, he wasn’t aware of his surroundings, he desperately needed a drink and his phone was on one per cent”.

It is believed he may have been attempting to walk back to his holiday accommodation after missing a bus.

In a series of posts on the Facebook page “Jay Slater Missing”, Rachel Louise Harg, the administrator of the group, said family and friends were in a “living nightmare” as they tried to help trace the teenager.

Explaining how she was “struggling to find the words”, she added “we are looking still and everyone is doing all they can” but they were “drained beyond words”.

Volunteers have also flown out to the small village of Masca to help with the search, with some posting videos and commentaries on social media sites such as Facebook and TikTok.

However, other armchair online sleuths are indulging in wild speculation and conspiracy theories that could be hindering the search.

Some speculated that Mr Slater had been kidnapped while others suggested he was simply hiding.

Other posts inaccurately suggested some of his personal belongings had been retrieved but Spanish police were keeping the discovery a “secret”.

More than 464,000 people had joined the “Jay Slater Missing” Facebook page, with a further 40,000 people signed up to other sites.

Moderators were urging people not to post “unhelpful” comments or inaccurate information, adding that they were banning those making “malicious” comments.

One woman wrote: “Some of the comments and posts in here are absolutely disgusting… Have some bloody respect will ya.”

Others complained that “armchair detectives” were posting absurd theories about his disappearance or criticising the search efforts.

A screengrab from Mr Slater's last Snapchat post before he went missing
A screengrab from Mr Slater's last Snapchat post before he went missing

Debbie Duncan, Mr Slater’s mother, who flew to Tenerife on Tuesday, said searching for her son was “an absolute living nightmare”.

She told ITV News: “He’s the life and soul, he’s a beautiful boy.”

She also urged anyone holding her son to “let him go”, adding to speculation about why he had vanished.

A crowdfunding website, set up by Ms Law to “get Jay Slater home”, has received more than £24,000 in donations.

Search and rescue teams joined officers from the island’s Guardia Civil near the village of Masca where they appeared to focus on a specific area of overgrown terrain.

Officers used binoculars to search the landscape before teams spread out towards the bottom of a hillside.

Search teams also focused on a river called Barranco Madre del Agua at the bottom of a ravine.

Earlier a helicopter flew over Rural de Teno Park and the Masca Gorge as officers, some with search dogs, followed footpaths crisscrossing the hillsides which are covered in overgrown bushes.

Mr Slater had attended the three-day NRG festival at the Papagayo beach club in South Tenerife on Sunday.

On Monday morning he sent a Snapchat video of himself apparently in the north of the island with friends. At about 8.30am, Ms Law received the phone call from him saying he was lost.

He would have had a more than 10-hour hike from the festival area to his accomodation in Los Cristianos. His phone is understood to have been pinpointed near Masca at about 8.50am on Monday before it ran out of power.

Police have also focused on a remote farmhouse where Mr Slater was understood to have gone with two British men he met during his holiday.

Emergency workers search for Mr Slater near the village of Masca
Emergency workers search for Mr Slater near the village of Masca - James Manning/PA

Ofelia Medina Hernandez, a local woman from near Masca, revealed she had seen a male teenager believed to be Mr Slater walking the wrong way along a twisting mountain road shortly after he stopped her outside her house to ask about bus times.

She was reported as saying: “He was alone when I first saw him just before eight o’clock on Monday morning. He asked me what time the bus went by although he didn’t tell me where he wanted to go.

“I told him it came at 10 and because he obviously didn’t understand he asked me the same question again and this time I put my fingers up to indicate it was 10 o’clock.

“Then I went back home briefly before starting to drive to the town of Buenavista del Norte and that’s when I saw him again, but this time walking on the road out of the village on the same side as me.

“It would have been no later than 8.10 and it was about a kilometre from where I’d seen him at the house. He was alone and he was walking quite fast. I drove past him and that’s the last time I saw him. I’ve given police this information and I don’t know anymore.”

Jay Slater
Jay Slater from Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, attended a music festival in south Tenerife on Sunday

Ms Law has said she had spoken to the two men who he had filmed for a Snapchat post in the north of the island who said Mr Slater had wanted to go home but turned down the offer of a lift.

Mr Slater was last seen wearing a white T-shirt with shorts and trainers and a black bag.

On Friday night Lancashire Constabulary said Spanish police had declined their offer of help.

A statement said: “First and foremost, our thoughts are with Jay’s family at this time. They must be going through the most distressing ordeal not knowing what has happened to their loved one.

“We have specialist officers who are continuing to support Jay’s family.

“Whilst this case falls outside the jurisdiction of UK policing, we have made an offer of support to the Guardia Civil to see if they need any additional resources. They have confirmed that at this time they are satisfied that they have the resources they need, but that offer remains open and they will contact us should that position change.

“Once again, our thoughts remain with Jay’s family and friends at this distressing time.”

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesman said: “We are supporting the family of a British man who has been reported missing in Spain and are in contact with the local authorities.”