Police hunt for boys' bodies at nature reserve

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police were carrying out a dig at the edge of a nature reserve today after a search for unmarked babies' graves may have uncovered further human remains.

The police were called in and are now digging specifically for the graves of John Rodgers, aged 13, and Thomas Spence, 11, who went missing from their Belfast homes in 1974.

Eight years ago a dig at the home of a convicted paedophile in the area yielded nothing.

The authorities said no discovery had yet been made, but confirmed they were investigating an anomaly which was detected during a survey of the site.

Today's dig came after experts surveyed land at the Bog Meadows reserve in west Belfast in a bid to find unmarked infants' graves which originally lay inside the boundaries of a nearby cemetery.

Land owned by the Catholic Church in Milltown Cemetery was sold to the Ulster Wildlife Trust, which is responsible for the reserve.

But campaigners later expressed fears that the land held the unmarked graves of hundreds of infants buried between the 1940s and 1980s, prompting surveys of the site.

Today, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said: "Police are carrying out further investigations surrounding an anomaly which arose during a survey of ground adjacent to Bog Meadows and Milltown Cemetery.

"These investigations now involve an excavation of the area where the anomaly was detected on the eastern boundary of Bog Meadows."

Sinn Fein West Belfast MP Gerry Adams said he hoped the survey and search would be resolved quickly for the benefit of the families involved.

The party said its representatives had met the relatives and other agencies involved, including the PSNI, Ulster Wildlife Trust and the Catholic Church.

Mr Adams said: "Following a completion of a recent survey by Queen's University, we fully expect that it will be possible in the near future to resolve all of the concerns raised by bereaved families.

"We are aware that the survey has identified an issue around a small piece of ground which the PSNI wish to investigate further.

"We hope that this work can be completed quickly with sensitivity and discretion."

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), which oversaw the survey, confirmed the operation had led to today's searches.

"During a site inspection survey of land around Milltown Cemetery in Belfast to locate the unmarked graves of babies and infants, Queen's University archaeologists, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, came across an anomalous image," said the NIEA.

"That is being investigated by the PSNI."

Queen’s University archaeologists, who are using ground penetrating radar to locate the babies and adults whose final resting places once lay within the boundaries of the cemetery, have now reported finding an “anomalous image”. The PSNI is believed to be working under the guidance of the Coroner’s Office to probe the finding.

A spokesman for the cemetery trustees said: “They seem to have found something which they think there ought to be further investigation into. They have located something that is not the norm in the ground and they feel they need to look further into it in the interests of finding out.”

A spokesman for Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which is working with QUB to locate graves, said: “During a site inspection survey of land around Milltown Cemetery in Belfast to locate the unmarked graves of babies and infants, Queen's University archaeologists on behalf of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency came across an anomalous image. That is being investigated by the PSNI.”

A report on the full extent of the graves in Bog Meadows is expected within weeks and this is likely to spark negotiations between the Milltown Cemetery trustees and the Ulster Wildlife Trust on the transfer of land.

Plans for a memorial garden commemorating the people buried on the site — who include infants and newborn babies — have been mooted and relatives who believe their loved ones were interred there have begun designing a monument.

Yesterday, contractors employed by the Ulster Wildlife Trust moved onto the site to begin felling trees at a spot within the nature reserve where preliminary survey results suggest there are graves. While any land transfers have yet to be agreed, the trust says it has embarked on the tree felling as a goodwill gesture.

This article is taken from the Belfast Telegraph