Cold cases Search for iden­ti­ties of bod­ies found on Welsh beaches

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Frances Per­raudin

One morn­ing in Novem­ber 1985, an RAF air­man out for a run on an An­gle­sey beach found a man’s body. A quirk of the tide means that an un­usu­ally high num­ber of bod­ies have washed up on beaches in north Wales over the years. This one had dis­tinc­tive scar­ring and did not match de­scrip­tions of any miss­ing per­son at the time. De­spite an ex­ten­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion, po­lice failed to iden­tify him. The case was dropped and the re­mains were buried in an un­marked grave.

Just over 30 years later, in 2016, Alan Dow­ley, a re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer in the Re­pub­lic of Ire­land, con­tacted north Wales po­lice. His fa­ther, Joseph Dow­ley, had last been seen by his fam­ily on 17 Oc­to­ber 1985, when his daugh­ter dropped him off at a bus sta­tion in Kilkenny. The 63-year-old had been due to catch a ferry to Eng­land and head to Lon­don, where he lived and worked.

When the fam­ily did not hear from him for two months, Alan Dow­ley started to make en­quiries. “I checked with his bank and there was no ac­tiv­ity on the ac­count,” he said. “I checked with the depart­ment of health and so­cial wel­fare in Lon­don and there was no ac­tiv­ity. Then we checked his last known ad­dress and he hadn’t been seen there for some time. It was at that stage that I re­ported him miss­ing.”

Over the years Dow­ley, now 65, had done in­ves­tiga­tive work of his own and had ob­tained his fa­ther’s med­i­cal records from St Mary’s hos­pi­tal in Lon­don. The records showed that his fa­ther had scars from a her­nia op­er­a­tion that was not known about at the time of the dis­ap­pear­ance. The scars matched those on the body found in 1985.

On 19 June this year, the re­mains were ex­humed from Me­nai Bridge ceme­tery for DNA test­ing, and last month, af­ter 33 years, the body was for­mally iden­ti­fied as Joseph Dow­ley. His re­mains were repa­tri­ated to Ire­land last month.

The dis­cov­ery was the re­sult of par­al­lel po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions by North Wales po­lice and the Gar­daí in Ire­land to iden­tify the com­par­a­tively high num­ber of bod­ies washed up on beaches in north Wales, many of which are thought to have come from Ire­land.

“Wales has a lot of coast­line, so we seem to get a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of coastal finds,” said DS Don Kenyon, who is lead­ing the North Wales po­lice op­er­a­tion.

Richard Lynch, from the Gar­daí miss­ing per­sons unit, said: “On the eastern seaboard, from Dublin as far as Water­ford, the way the cur­rent will work is that it gen­er­ally pushes bod­ies to­wards north Wales.”

Op­er­a­tion Orchid, es­tab­lished by North Wales po­lice in 2010, was tasked with nam­ing the 16 uniden­ti­fied bod­ies buried in the re­gion be­tween 1968 and 2002; 11 of which were dis­cov­ered ei­ther in the sea or on the coast­line. There are 926 uniden­ti­fied bod­ies or body parts on the UK miss­ing per­sons data­base, dat­ing from 1950. DNA was first used by po­lice for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in 1986, and the op­er­a­tion uses foren­sic tech­niques that were not avail­able when the bod­ies were found.

Op­er­a­tion Run­abay was launched by the Gar­daí miss­ing per­sons unit in Jan­uary 2017 to iden­tify bod­ies found on the western coast of Bri­tain, who may have been re­ported miss­ing in Ire­land. There are 120 cases out­stand­ing.

As well as Joseph Dow­ley, Op­er­a­tion Orchid has also iden­ti­fied the body of Pauline Fin­lay, who dis­ap­peared while walk­ing her dogs on a beach in Kil­muck­ridge, Co Wex­ford, on 25 March 1994. Leg and hip re­mains were found at Ca­ble Bay in Holy­head seven months af­ter her dis­ap­pear­ance, but were only for­mally iden­ti­fied in 2016.

Among the other cases be­ing in­ves­ti­gated is that of a woman’s body found in the sea off Bar­mouth on 28 June 1978. She is de­scribed as 5ft 6in (167cm) and was found in a blue Marks & Spencer swim­suit.

In an­other case, the body of a man be­lieved to be aged 25 to 30 was found in the sea off Holy­head on 30 May 1982. He was be­tween 6ft and 6ft 2in with short black hair and a stocky build. The body had been in the sea about a month and was dressed in out­door cloth­ing, in­clud­ing a blue Berghaus jacket.

An­other man, be­lieved to be be­tween 55 and 60 years old, was found on the beach in Aber­dovey on 28 De­cem­ber 1982. He was about 5ft 10in and had a sur­gi­cal scar on his neck and up­per den­tures.

For Ann El­lis, from the Gar­daí miss­ing per­sons unit, the cases do not lose im­por­tance as time goes by. “They are some­one’s fam­ily mem­ber and these ques­tions have been open for years on end,” she said. “If we can give these fam­i­lies any in­di­ca­tion that we haven’t for­got­ten and that we are still try­ing to find an­swers for peo­ple, that’s very im­por­tant.”

Alan Dow­ley has come to the con­clu­sion that his fa­ther had ei­ther fallen or jumped off the ferry to Eng­land, but ac­cepted that the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing his death would re­main a mys­tery.

“It’s dif­fer­ent if some­one has gone miss­ing in the last few weeks and then the body is dis­cov­ered,” he said. “But we’ve had 30 years to deal with this. You may never know what hap­pened, but you ac­cept they are gone and you just have to move on.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CHRISTO­PHER THOMOND/GUARDIAN

Lligwy Bay in An­gle­sey. Cur­rents cause a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of bod­ies to wash up in north Wales

▲ Joseph Dow­ley went miss­ing in 1985

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