When people go missing and are not heard from for years, there has to be a point where the law recognises that they have died. The High Court performed that sad task in the case of a much-loved young man who vanished without trace over 30 years ago whilst on a backpacking trip to Canada.
After the 20-year-old travelled to Canada to see the country and visit members of his family, he stayed in touch with his mother, with whom he had a close and loving relationship. However, his contact with her abruptly ceased whilst he was staying at a campsite in British Columbia in May 1989. Despite her tireless efforts, she had since been unable to find any trace of him. His passport had not been renewed and international advertising campaigns had yielded nothing.
Given the passage of so many years since his disappearance, his mother reluctantly applied to the Court under the Presumption of Death Act 2013 for a declaration that he had died. Such declarations can be granted where a person has not been known to be alive for a period of at least seven years or where the Court is satisfied on the evidence that a person has died.
Granting the declaration, the Court found that he was domiciled in England on the date of his disappearance. His daughter and half-brother had been notified of the proceedings and did not oppose the application. The Court was entirely satisfied that he had died and found that he probably did so at the campsite on the night that he was last seen alive.
Prior to his disappearance, his mother had placed her home in their joint names with a view to promoting his long-term financial security. The Court declared that they had owned the property as joint tenants and that his share of the freehold therefore passed automatically to his mother on the date of his presumed death.