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Cadaver dogs and forensic teams scour remote woods in bid to solve Fiona mystery

GARDAI will this morning resume the search for missing woman Fiona Pender in a remote woods in the Midlands.

A team of up to 20 gardai, including members of the Garda Technical Bureau, a specialist forensic archeologist, and cadaver dog search team, have sealed off a 200 sq metre search site in a wooded area near the village of Rosenallis, Co Laois.

Gardai are using ground- penetrating radar in Capardwood in the search for the 25-year-old model and hairdresser who vanished from her home in Tullamore, Co Offaly, on August 22, 1996.

Ms Pender, who was over seven months pregnant, was last seen buying baby clothes on Church Street in the town.

The latest search was ordered after a female witness came forward with "credible information" about a specific location where Ms Pender may have been buried.

The witness was the former partner of the man gardai believe is the prime suspect for the murder of Ms Pender.

Gardai say that the information they are working on is the "most significant" they have yet received during the 18-year investigation.

It is understood that the woman broke her silence after her life was threatened by the prime suspect in another jurisdiction. She has since met with gardai from the Laois/Offaly division, who interviewed her at length over recent months.

holiday

It is understood that the woman, who is in protective care abroad, told detectives that the prime suspect brought her to the wooded area being searched on a number of occasions when they were home on holiday and allegedly told her he buried Ms Pender there.

He also threatened her life and told her the same thing would happen to her if she ever crossed him.

Speaking as the fresh search continued last night, Divisional Chief Supt John Scanlan said "At this stage, we must fear the worst."

He refused to comment on what lead gardai to search the area.

"I don't wish to say why we are going there, but there is a reason. We didn't just pick it off a map," he said.

Chief Supt Scanlan said the first priority is to find Ms Pender's remains. But he urged anyone who may have withheld information concerning her disappearance to come forward now.

"This was 18 years ago. There are people who may have been under pressure back then not to talk, or not to tell a story. And I would strongly appeal to anyone who knows anything to now come forward."

In August, Fiona's mother Josephine (65) said she fears she will die before the remains of her daughter and unborn grandchild are located.

"I would have hoped to have found Fiona before I die, but I have been very ill this year," she said.

In recent months, Mrs Pender has been in and out of hospital.

"I've been very sick, the doctors are putting it down to stress," she explained. "It's hard to keep going as the years go on."

While she has given up hope of finding them alive, Mrs Pender wants her daughter and grandchild to have a proper Christian burial.

"I would appeal to people who know out there, just please tell me where she is," she said.

hnews@herald.ie


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