Friday 20 September 2019

Doctor's bid to identify bodies with no name

DATABASE: Dr Rene Gapert
DATABASE: Dr Rene Gapert

Alan O'Keeffe

Unidentified bodies or body parts should be stored in a central national facility until the mystery of their identities is solved, an expert on human remains has proposed.

A single national database for all such cases should be set up to co-ordinate efforts to identify them, says forensic anthropologist Dr Rene Gapert in a submission being considered by the Department of Justice and Equality.

He has proposed the creation of a new post of state forensic anthropologist, who would work on identifying skeletons and body parts to assist coroners and pathologists.

The Coroners Society of Ireland has in principle backed the setting up of the database and establishment of a forensic anthropologist service. The Department of Justice is looking at ways of further modernising identification methods which could help bring closure for people whose loved ones are missing.

Professor Denis Cusack, Kildare coroner and director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, said calls for a central database for unidentified human remains went back several years. The discovery of any bones suspected to be human will result in a coroner being notified.

"Once it is confirmed the bones are human, the question is whether they are ancient or of recent origin," he said. "Coroners everywhere, but particularly in the eastern region, are very aware there are a number of missing young women. So we are always very alert any time human remains are found."

Prof Cusack was a member of a working group that conducted a review of coroners services in Ireland and made several recommendations in 2000, including creating a new national information system for unidentified remains.

Scientific advances mean that DNA can now be recovered which would not have been 10 or 20 years ago. Buried remains can be exhumed if DNA previously extracted from the remains results in identification and families wish to transfer the remains to a family plot, he said.

Gardai working in the area of identifying remains and those officers dealing with missing persons have backed moves to improve the system.

Fine Gael senator Colm Burke has been working on the issue of missing persons and has a Private Members' Bill, the Civil Law (Presumption of Death) Bill, going through the Oireachtas which would allow families to manage the affairs of missing persons, where their relative has been missing a long time and presumed dead.

"I am firmly of the belief that we need to centralise information in respect of bodies or parts of bodies which have not been identified," he said.

"Currently this information is retained locally which doesn't allow for adequate co-ordination of the sharing of this information.

"This is problematic if a person goes missing in one part of the country and their remains are found in another part of the country."

Sunday Independent

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