Tuesday 18 June 2019

Watch: Nieces' DNA solves mystery of prison grave

Thomas Kent on the left and William Kent being led across Fermoy Bridge in May 1916.
Thomas Kent on the left and William Kent being led across Fermoy Bridge in May 1916.
Thomas Kent.

Thomas Kent was executed on May 9, 1916, and his body placed in an unmarked grave, filled with quicklime, in the grounds of Cork Prison in Victoria Barracks. Almost 99 years later, the remains of a body were exhumed and so began a scientific investigation to ensure that they were indeed the remains of Thomas Kent.

Head of the Garda Forensic Co-ordination Office, John Byrne, approached genetics expert, Dr Jens Carlsson from the University College Dublin School of Biology and Environmental Science, to see if a Mitochondrial DNA test could be used. However, as such a test requires maternal relatedness, and Thomas Kent had no living relatives on the maternal side, this technique would not bear results.

Instead, Dr Carlsson chose another method, a micro-satellite technique, recommended by archaeologists who attempt to retrieve DNA from bones going back thousands of years. The analysis of the bone samples involved the State Pathologist's Office, the National Forensic Coordination Office at the Garda Technical Bureau, Forensic Science Ireland and Dr Jens Carlsson's team working in the Pinhasi ERC Ancient DNA Laboratory at UCD.

DNA from blood samples of two of Thomas Kent's nieces were sent to Carlsson to test against the bone samples from the remains. Because of the novelty of this case, the team ran statistical simulations to verify their results - and the conclusion was overwhelming - these were indeed the remains of Thomas Kent.

It is expected that this extraordinary scientific case will help discover the true identities of victims of war crimes abandoned in mass graves.

For more on the full story of how Thomas Kent was identified.

Irish Independent

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