Murder probe under way as student's body is exhumed
GARDAI last night began a murder investigation into the death of a student whose remains were dramatically exhumed five years after she was killed.
A new post-mortem examination yesterday on the body of student Emer O'Loughlin found that she was murdered.
The 23-year-old girl was discovered in a burnt-out caravan in Co Clare five years ago.
Until now, the cause of death had not been known but it was treated by gardai as suspicious.
A man, who went missing two weeks after the body was found, has still not been traced.
Gardai are anxious to interview the man about the circumstances surrounding the death of the student, whose body was exhumed for further tests from her grave at Ennistymon Cemetery yesterday morning.
The initial post-mortem failed to establish the cause of her death following the blaze in a caravan park at Newline, Ballybornagh, between Kinvara and Tubber in Co Clare, on the afternoon of April 8, 2005.
A fresh examination was carried out yesterday afternoon at University College Galway hospital by Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis and forensic anthropologist Dr Lorraine Buckley.
The decision to exhume the body was taken after a review of the investigation into her death by officers from the cold case team. As part of the new inquiry, permission was sought by Clare coroner Isobel O'Dea from Justice Minister Dermot Ahern for the exhumation.
One line of inquiry being pursued is that she may have been attacked and sexually assaulted, but this was not determined in the initial post-mortem.
Ms O'Loughlin, who was originally from Ennistymon, was a full-time art student at the Galway and Mayo Institute of Technology and had been living in the Ballybornagh area for a few years prior to her death.
Her body was badly burnt in the blaze and her identity was confirmed through DNA testing.
Three days after the fire, an agitated man blockaded himself inside the Dun Aengus ring fort on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands.
The man hurled rocks from the fort as gardai were flown in from the mainland. The Aran Islands lifeboat was called out, amid fears for the man's safety as the fort overlooked a cliff, 300ft above the sea.
After three hours of negotiation, the man agreed to leave. He was later treated in hospital in Ballinasloe, Galway, and discharged.
Thirteen days after the fire, the man's clothing was found near the cliffs at the same spot. Despite extensive searches, gardai have been unable to find him since then and do not know whether he is dead or alive. But officers said last night that he remained key to their inquiries.
During the initial inquiries, two women and a man were arrested and held for questioning about allegedly withholding information about the circumstances of the student's death.
But the three suspects were later released without charge.
This is the second time that the cold case team, which is officially known as the serious crime review team, have sought the exhumation of a body.
Brian McGrath disappeared from his home in Coole, Co Westmeath, in March 1987 but a garda investigation was not initiated until 1993. Officers searched land around his home and found human remains.
Forensic experts were unable to positively identify the body, but new tests, following the exhumation in 2008, confirmed it was Mr McGrath's remains.
Two people were subsequently charged with his murder and are due to face trial in the central criminal court next month.