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Investigator returns to UK after fruitless search for disappeared victim of the IRA

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John Hill at a previous search site for Columba McVeigh

John Hill at a previous search site for Columba McVeigh

John Hill at a previous search site for Columba McVeigh

A SENIOR investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) has spoken of his "distress" at the failure to find the remains of IRA 'disappeared' victim Columba McVeigh, which are believed to be buried on a remote mountainside.

Mr McVeigh was abducted and killed by the IRA whilst working in Dublin in November 1975.

John Hill left the Bragan search site in Co Monaghan, near the Border, on Thursday to return home to the UK.

This particular search, which concluded two weeks ago, has been ongoing intermittently since April 2012 and covered an area of over 10 acres. Several areas of the north Monaghan site were searched a number of times.

The senior investigator said: "Disappointing doesn't cover it. It's far more than disappointing. It's extremely distressing for the whole team involved and not least for the families. Everyone is very disappointed as we were quite hopeful when we started."

All searches of the Bragan by the commission were centred on the same area.

Mr Hill told the Sunday Independent: "Over the last two years we haven't been there all the time, but it has entailed a small area. Prior to that, Coillte were involved in removing some trees, after which we undertook a search. We went away and then came back again after Coillte took down some more trees.

"We then divided what was left into two or three manageable sections. It was a programmed search."

The search team used highly advanced geophysical surveys in advance of diggers carefully breaking the mainly peat terrain and removing the soil, which was then painstakingly searched by the commission teams, including forensic archaeologists.

Mr Hill said that because the level of intelligence received by the commission seemed to be accurate it had been hoped that the search would have been concluded successfully in a relatively short timeframe.

"The reality is that, that is never the way it works out. It is not a simple job. Bragan is more difficult for us as there have been searches there before the commission became involved, so the landscape has changed." Garda searches took place there in 1999-2000.

The commission has no current plans to resume digs for the disappeared victims in the near future. On the Bragan this week, diggers were busy with restoration work on the site. Mr Hill disclosed that the commission was not aware of any new possible 'disappeared' sites at this time.

"We are not in a position where we have any other sites that we can go to but that could change," he said.

"We are always hopeful and pursuing the fact that until the remains of these people are all found, it remains open.

"We would encourage anyone with any information to come forward, no matter how small or insignificant that information may seem. The confidentiality is crucial to the process. It is absolutely integral to what we do and that should and could encourage people to come forward."

"There has never been any prosecutions as a result of any of our cases."

Contact the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) on freephone 00800 55585500 or PO Box 10827, Dublin 2

Sunday Independent