Reports that police forces may consider using psychics in missing person cases are nothing new.

On past evidence, however, the misses have been as regular as the hits. One of the more notable of 20th-century psychic failures was their inability to discover the whereabouts of New York’s Judge Joseph Crater, who disappeared from Broadway after dining with a lawyer and a showgirl on 6 August 1930. As late as 1964 the Dutch clairvoyant Gerard Croiset divined that the body could be found in Yonkers. An extensive search produced nothing and Sheriff John E.

Fry told the press: ‘There wasn’t even a bone some dog might have buried for future reference.’

Despite this, the South Australian police turned to Croiset for help when three children were abducted from a beach near Adelaide in January 1966. They were never seen again. After wrongly suggesting three places in which their bodies might be found, including a house that the new owners were obliged to have partly demolished, Croiset moved to Europe.

When Chandra Levy, the Washington DC intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, went missing on 1 May 2001, psychics from around the world suggested where her body might be found. Sites included the basement of a Smithsonian storage building; in the Potomac river; and as far away as the Nevada desert. Not even close. A year after her disappearance, her body was found by a man walking his dog in a remote section of Rock Creek Park in Washington DC.

However, in England, the psychic Estelle Roberts did correctly identify the place where Mona Tinsley’s body could be found after she had been abducted and murdered by Frederick Nodder.

In 1993 a dinner was apparently given by the Metropolitan Police in honour of psychic Nella Jones after her 20-year career assisting officers. By 2006, 28 forces denied that they used psychics and, in 2009, the Metropolitan Police maintained it had never used them. This, however, was later modified to: ‘We do not identify people we may or may not speak with in connection with enquiries.’

James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor