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Fiona Pender suspect 'misled' witness about 'burial site'


Missing: Fiona Pender

Missing: Fiona Pender

Missing: Fiona Pender

Gardai believe the suspect in the murder and disappearance of Fiona Pender may have misled the witness who gave them information about the missing woman's alleged burial site that was excavated over the past fortnight.

The information given by the female witness tallied with other evidence gardai had from the early stages of the investigation into the August 1996 disappearance, which they believe suggested Fiona was buried in the Slieve Bloom Mountains.

Gardai were initially hopeful the information they received - the most significant such information since the outset of the case 18 years ago - might lead to the discovery of Fiona's remains.

But the excavation of woods in the Slieve Bloom Mountains south of Tullamore where Fiona (25) was last seen alive produced nothing after two weeks of searching and was abandoned last week.

Two cadaver dogs ­borrowed by gardai for the purpose of the search and other equipment failed to detect any 'anomalies' that might tie in with the burial of a corpse at the site. A strip of land around 200 metres in length was searched without result.

The search centred on land adjacent to a lay-by at Capard near Rosenallis, Co Laois on a quiet scenic road used mainly by visitors to the nearby Glenbarrow waterfall.

The woman who supplied the information to gardai said she had been brought to the location almost 10 years ago while in a relationship with the suspect and he told her that Fiona was buried there.

In August the suspect was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and charged with one count of sexual assault. Last month three further charges were brought against him in the same case.

The identity of the man and his alleged victim were kept private at the direction of a Canadian court.

Gardai now believe the information initially given to the female witness may have been a ruse or a total invention by the suspect.

The location of the search, however, tallied with information that gardai received in the early days of the investigation into Fiona's disappearance.

One motorist came forward and gave a statement saying he was almost forced off a road south of Tullamore and in the direction of Slieve Bloom by a four-wheel drive vehicle driven at speed on the night Fiona was last seen on August 22.

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This information tallied with other details gardai already had about a man they believed was involved in the murder and disappearance of the seven-month pregnant part-time model and hairdresser.

Fiona was last seen alive when she was dropped off at the flat she shared with her then boyfriend, John Thompson, in Church Street in Tullamore after a day's shopping.

The following day her mother Josephine was unable to get an answer from the flat and the day after that alerted gardai.

Mr Thompson said that on the night in question he had stayed at his family's farm outside Tullamore and had no idea how or why Fiona disappeared.

The initial garda investigation remained a missing person's case and little in the way of additional resources were allocated.

It took five days for gardai to issue a national request for information about her disappearance.

After the broadcast a local man came forward and said he had seen two men carrying something that looked like a rolled up carpet from the building in Church Street where Fiona had been living. He said they placed the bulky object in the rear of a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Little progress was made in the case for some months. In April 1997 gardai arrested and questioned two men and three women but they all ­denied having any knowledge regarding Fiona's disappearance.

No further arrests were made and the case made no further progress until the latest developments arising from the arrest in Canada.

The Canadian police ­confirmed they arrested a man in his forties in respect of "multiple charges" of ­sexually assaulting and threatening to kill the woman.

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