Jay Slater case 'not helped by armchair detectives' claims retired cop

Members of the public who get involved in missing person cases risk genuine investigations, according to former chief inspector Martyn Underhill.

The retired detective - who worked alongside the missing person's inquiry to help find mum-of-two Nicola Bulley, claims the rise of the internet has brought with it a tsunami of armchair detectives, all thinking they have the nugget of information to crack the latest case - hampering genuine investigations.

With more than 30 years experience with the Sussex Police - including solving eight-year-old Sarah Payne's high-profile murder in 2000 - Mr Underhill worries Jay Slater's disappearance is already mirroring the public's obsession with that of Nicola Bulley and Levi Davis' cases and the slew of guess-work theories will only hinder those directly involved in trying to solve the mystery.

Consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Pablo Jeczmien also chimed in don't the claims, adding people's desire to be part of a missing person's inquiry by having their say online, is all about them and their need to be the centre of what's happened, and has little to do with those who have vanished.

It comes as Jay from Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, went missing on the holiday island of Tenerife last Monday. The 19-year-old was last seen by the owner of an Airbnb and it is believed he had missed the bus to reach friends in the south of the island, after attending a music festival.

The teen's last known location was traced to Rural del Teno, a mountainous area in the west of the island. The closest town is Santiago del Teide.

Nicola Bulley's body was found in February 2023 ( Image: PA) -Credit:PA
Nicola Bulley's body was found in February 2023 ( Image: PA) -Credit:PA

Jay had been staying in an apartment with friends on the south of the island. One of those, Lucy Law told police she woke up to a phone call from Jay at 8.30am saying “he was lost in the mountains, he wasn’t aware of his surroundings, he desperately needed a drink and his phone was on 1%”.

Just before he vanished, he had been messaging friends on social media Snapchat and seemed in a normal and stable state of mind. His phone died around 8.50am, with his last known location registered near a hiking trail, several hundred feet above the small village of Masca.

Groups of ‘Jeep safari tours’ in Tenerife have descended on the remote rental property, with amateur sleuths searching for the missing teen. “This is our second time here,” Shannon Shiels, a spa manager who lives in Birmingham and Spain told the Times.

“I asked to drive this route because I just wanted to see it one more time. I want to get some answers. It gives me actual chills.”

Online chat groups have suggested Jay could have been 'partying on boats' with other trolls announcing the teen's body had been found in a string of sick accusations the family and investigators have had to content with. Rachel Harg, the mother of Jay's best friend and admin of the Find Jay Slater Facebook group, expressed her devastation at the horrible lies revealing they had left her "absolutely heartbroken."

Jay Slater has been missing since June 17 -Credit:Instagram
Jay Slater has been missing since June 17 -Credit:Instagram

Dr Pablo Jeczmien, of the Harvey Row Clinic, told the Mirror: "Some people are so interested in all the details of crime cases simply because they are really morbid and just interested in death, it's quite a perverse thing, flirting with death and the fragility of life. They are just glad it's not them.

"The other element is that people are interested in conspiracy theories. With social media, facts have stopped becoming facts, everyone has an opinion and their opinion suddenly becomes the fact. And everyone has an opinion and those 'facts' are not corroborated. People suddenly become experts and think they will become an influencer once people start following what they say.

"People are narcissists and they are in the centre of their worlds, it's all about knowing more about the case than the next person. It's about them being the centre of the story and not to do with the missing person. I don't think it's a good thing to be interested in something that's so far away from everyday life. "

Former DCI Underhill added he can already see similarities in the way his disappearance and Nicola Bulley's are being treated by the public. Mrs Bulley vanished while walking her dog by the river in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.

Her phone was found on a bench by the waterside and had recently connected to a work call. Her dog Willow was running loose. Ms Bulley had dropped her two daughters, aged six and nine, off at school and then gone on her usual dog walk alongside the river before she vanished. Police launched an extensive search of the area and Nicola's body was found on February 19. Police confirmed the tragic news a day later, on February 20.

Mr Underhill told the Mirror : "When I was working on the Sarah Payne case, I was contacted by more than 300 psychics, most of them would write in but one drove from Cumbria to tell me where they thought Sarah was. The invention of the internet has caused a tsunami of armchair detectives, as the internet allows everyone to comment on everything.

"Nicola Bulley's case was always going to attract attention in the same way Sarah Payne and Milly Dowler's cases did. There was a real twist there, it made people ask what happened to her, her phone was on the bench and the dog loose, it really opened the gates for conspiracy theories.

"Jay's disappearance is completely out of character and most worryingly is the amount of conspiracy theories that are emerging. Still today, there are 1,000s of people in the UK who are still commenting and talking on Whatsapp groups about Nicola Bulley, I know because I'm in them. They are convinced that she was abducted and murdered.

"There's no logic to that. People have become obsessed and it is not good for their mental health. I've had a woman contact me this week about Nicola Bulley, with a nugget of 'evidence' she thinks proves her theory. I did reply and say you really need to let this go, it can't be good for your own mental wellbeing."

Another missing person, Levi Davis, a Bath rugby player and former Celebrity X Factor contestant was last seen at The Old Irish Pub in Barcelona, Spain on October 29, 2022. Four days before he disappeared, a video was posted to his Instagram account in which he says: “My name is Levi Davis and my life is in danger.” He then spent 15 minutes talking about being blackmailed by unknown people who had taken pictures of him in “compromising positions”, claiming his life and his family’s life were under threat.

Levi's case led to armchair detectives speculating so much that the Spanish police and his family issued a statement asking them to stop. Some said he had been involved with gangs. They said reports of “hearsay” have been causing “a huge amount of distress” to his family and friends and are “potentially damaging the reputation of a young man who has achieved so much in his young life”.

Dr Pablo Jeczmien says some people are obsessed with death
Dr Pablo Jeczmien says some people are obsessed with death

The statement released almost six months after he vanished, read: “Following a meeting with the Spanish police on Wednesday, March 1 and contrary to the false and distressing stories being published in some of the newspapers, the facts are as follows: Gang involvement is not being considered or investigated at this time as their focus is on facts and concrete evidence including where he was last seen, telephone calls he made, apps he used and people he may have arranged to meet.

“They have now identified who he was last in contact with. This is still a missing persons case, it is not and never has been a criminal case and there is not and never has been an imminent arrest. The reports of a man seen in the water in the Port on the morning of (October) 30 is now being fully investigated with the help of the other relevant police forces. This is also where his passport was found.”

During the missing person's investigation for Nicola Bulley, the police force leading the search issued a 48-hour dispersal order for the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, after a group of men travelled to the area to search an abandoned house. The men reportedly “live-streamed” their attempts to break into the house close to where she went missing, despite it already being checked by trained officers.

Other amateur sleuths behind their computer screens became obsessed with a "tatty red van". Despite it being excluded from the Nicola Bulley inquiry early on by cops, the internet was alive with theories that it was somehow involved. A Lancashire Police spokeswoman said they are aware of reports of the van but such reports "can distract from genuine enquiries".

Questioned about the interest in the case from amateur sleuths and social media users, Detective Superintendent Rebecca Smith said officers are being "inundated with false information, accusations and rumours" about Ms Bulley's disappearance which are "distracting" them.

"In 29 years' police service I've never seen anything like it. Some of it's been quite shocking and really hurtful to the family," she said. "That is potentially damaging to the investigation."

Mr Underhill added: "When these cases resolve themselves, often tragically, these armchair detectives still continue and that can lead to real mental health issues and breakdowns for members of the public. Jay Slater's case is straying into the exact same area, there are pages of conspiracy theories and Whatsapp groups discussing it.

"Do they think this is this going to help the investigation and is going to help find Jay alive? If he is dead, is it going to help to find his body and bring him home for his family? I'm convinced that armchair detectives do not help the families of the missing. I have deep concern that people who have no knowledge or experience can move public opinion when they don't know what they are talking about, it's deeply, deeply worrying.

"If an armchair detective makes a post with a new theory, they can be a hero for the day, but that doesn't help bring Jay home, it didn't help bring Nicola home."

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