An Irish scheme to identify bodies washed up on shore – that has thus far identified seven missing persons by their DNA – is to be extended beyond British coastal waters to France, Spain and Portugal.
Operation Runabay was originally set up last year by the garda’s missing persons bureau to establish the identities of people whose remains were found off the west coast of Britain.
Last year 81 DNA samples were collected leading to four matches. Last week it successfully confirmed a DNA match with the body of a London Irishman who had disappeared more than three decades ago.
A total of seven missing persons cases have now been solved after DNA analysis verified a body washed up off the Welsh coast in November 1985 was Brendan Dowley, who had disappeared three weeks earlier.
The unidentified remains of the 63-year-old father of four were buried in a cemetery on Anglesey more than thirty years ago. He had last seen boarding a bus in Kilkenny to get the Dún Laoghaire ferry to return to London where he lived.
In June police in North Wales exhumed the body to allow for a comparison of DNA from the corpse with samples from his family.
The test results found a “one in a billion” possibility that the remains were anything other than his and the news was conveyed to his 97-year-old widow and family. Until his body was identified it was one of more than 600 unidentified bodies in British cemeteries.
Alan Dowley said: “I want to thank the North Wales police, gardai and Forensic Science Ireland for all their work on this case.
“I am glad we have had a positive result, it provides closure for our family, an inquest will be held in Wales, and we can make arrangements.
“We have to count ourselves lucky as a family. It has come to an end. I would encourage people to give their DNA.”
It follows the identification of a Dublin woman who went missing as she walked her dogs near her holiday home in Wexford. Gardaí identified Pauline Finlay, 49, who disappeared while walking her dogs on the beach at Cahore near Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, in 1994.
DNA tests on an exhumed body from a cemetery in Wales confirmed it was her body that had been washed up on that country’s shore. She disappeared while walking her two dogs at Old Bawn Beach, where she and her husband Joe had a mobile home, in 1994. Extensive searches were carried for days and weeks out on the water and along the coastline after she went missing but no trace was ever found.
It was thought that the unidentified remains of a woman who washed up on Cable Bay beach in Wales eight months later might possibly have been those of Mrs Finlay but the remains were not identified and were buried at a cemetery in Wales before being exhumed exhumed last December on the orders of North West Wales coroner Dewi Pritchard Jones after DNA tests confirmed the body was of Pauline Finlay.
The remains were sent to Dublin in January and the matter referred to Irish coroners.
Mrs Finlay’s husband Joe died last year but her surviving family members were told at an inquest at Dublin’s Coroner’s Court in April that the body was hers. North Wales police last year launched an initiative to try and identify 17 bodies that they have on their records and contacted the Garda Síochána for details on unsolved missing persons cases.
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