Call for Morse: Skeleton found in Oxford college


It is the sort of discovery that would have had Inspector Morse grumpily downing his pint and climbing into the red Jaguar.

An Oxford University college was cordoned off today after builders dug up a human skeleton a day after a bullet casing was also found nearby.

The intact skeleton was found in Wadham College this morning lying in a burial position close to 400-year-old buildings, prompting staff to contact police, who in turn taped off the site of the grisly discovery as a potential crime scene.

Concern that evidence had been found of the sort of dark deeds in picturesque academic settings that provided the Oxford’s most famous television detective with much of his caseload was increased when it was revealed that a modern bullet casing had also been dug up in close vicinity.

But trepidation that genuine foul play had taken place at the famous college, whose current warden is appropriately the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, QC, was fading tonight after police said there were no suspicious circumstances. Thames Valley Police said it was believed the remains are at least 100 years old and the bullet casing was unconnected.

Archaeologists were expected to arrive at Wadham on Thursday to examine the remains, which may be linked to a medieval Augustinian priory that occupied part of the site where the college now stands. A college source told The Independent: “The provisional assessment is that the bones are very old. Certainly, they appear to be so – they are very yellowed and crumbly. The contractors found the skeleton lying lengthwise as if it had been placed in a shroud or a coffin.

“A bullet case which appeared fairly modern had also been discovered. But there was nothing to link the two. It is possible that it will turn out to be the remains of an Augustinian monk because of the priory site. It is likely the priory also had a burial ground.

“But we have to wait for confirmation. If the archaeologists find that its 40 years old then clearly the police and their forensic experts will have to investigate.”

The remains were discovered in the back quad of the college, adjacent to buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren, by contractors who were building a new drain as part of a programme of improvement works.

It is not the first time that skeletal remains have been found in the college, which was founded in 1610 by Dorothy Wadham, the daughter of Henry VIII’s secretary of state. Remains believed to have belonged to a monk have been previously dug up while a skeleton initially thought to belong to a baby were later found to be the remains of a dog.

A spokeswoman for Thames Valley Police said: “We were called by contractors yesterday morning. Officers attended and there were no suspicious circumstances. It is thought it is likely to have been an old burial site.”

Endeavour Morse would doubtless have sighed and returned to his crossword.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?