Family ready to exhume body to solve 11-year-old murder riddle

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The saga of Edward "Ebby" Walsh, an Irishman stabbed to death in west London, is as complex, convoluted and controversial as any Inspector Morse inquiry. It is a story of murder, the alleged disappearance of the victim's body and claims of a cover-up. His family have been fighting for 11 years to discover just what happened in the hours and days after his death in Notting Hill.

Yesterday, however, their campaign received a setback when the Home Office ruled out an inquiry. Officials in London have told counterparts in Ireland, where Mr Walsh was born and supposedly buried, that no investigation could be justified after such a long period and with no fresh evidence. Now, without any immediate prospect of a formal inquiry, the family are unable to afford the pounds 50,000 cost of an exhumation - though such a course seems the only way to solve the riddle.

The dead man's brother, Raymond, who has led the campaign, said: "The response of the Home Office is unacceptable. After 11 years we still don't know the truth of what happened to my brother." He points to a catalogue of blunders, discrepancies and missing evidence surrounding Mr Walsh's death in December 1985 at a late-night cards game. This culminated in fears that the body they received for burial in the family plot at Rahoon, Co Galway, in early 1986 was that of another man.

The family have been unable to get hold of records of the subsequent Old Bailey murder trial - when a fellow card-player was acquitted - including statements supposedly identifying the body by police, officials and other witnesses. There are even doubts over the exact date of his death, who accompanied him to hospital and whether he was dead on arrival - the accounts of the funeral directors, hospital and coroner's office all differ.

A second post-mortem examination on the body was recorded as taking place on 8 February 1986 - the day after the body assumed to be that of Mr Walsh was taken to Ireland.

Raymond Walsh said yesterday that exhuming his brother's body may be the best course of action - it had been suggested at the burial that the family should not open the coffin because the corpse had decomposed badly. No Irish doctor would examine the body.

After his brother's death, Mr Walsh was allowed to view the body only from a distance and could see only the nose; he has always maintained that he refused to identify the corpse as that of his brother. Statements to this effect are among those he has been unable to trace from the Crown Court file.

Three years ago an Irish pathologist examined a post-mortem photograph and one taken of Mr Walsh a month before his death; he said that they bore little likeness to each other.

Such details have persuaded Raymond Walsh to keep fighting to find out what happened to his brother, whom he described as an "ordinary" man from an "ordinary, law-abiding family".

He said: "We had hoped that the Labour government might have a more honest approach, but it's just the same old passing of the buck the authorities have been doing for 11 years."

The Labour MP Tony Benn, who last year tabled an early-day motion in the Commons calling for a public inquiry into the case, yesterday described the Home Office response as "unsatisfactory" and said that he would be speaking to the Irish authorities and Raymond Walsh to see what the next steps would be.

A Home Office spokeswoman expressed sympathy for the family but said that exhumation was a matter for the Irish authorities and that the reopening of an inquest came under the jurisdiction of the Attorney- General.