Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Mass baby grave in Tuam, Galway: It is possible to determine cause of death, says forensic scientist

The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway
The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway
The remains of nearly 800 children have been found in a mass grave next to an Irish orphanage
The remains of nearly 800 children have been found in a mass grave next to an Irish orphanage

A leading consultant forensic scientist says an examination of the skeletal remains of almost 800 babies found in Tuam, Co Galway could determine how they died.

The bodies of the infants were located in a sceptic tank on the site of a former Mother and Babies home. The site was first located in 1972.

In recent days, a local historian has suggested the babies’ bodies were placed there between 1921 to 1965.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland programme earlier yesterday, Geoff Knuper, who works in major crime in Ireland and the UK as well cases of The Disappeared, said cause of death could be determined despite the passing of more than four decades.

“It’s clearly very disturbing,” he said.

“I think in the first instance this should, or could, be a matter for the Garda Siochana, the coroner and of course the State Pathologist would play a key role in any such investigation.”

When asked by host Gavin Jennings if it was possible to determine how the infants died, Mr Knupfer said it depended on a number of factors.

“Obviously it all depends on the state of preservation.

“After all this time of course, soft tissue will no longer be available but the harder tissue, skeletal structures, should have survived

“In addition to providing opportunities for DNA identification, the skeletal structures could show evidence of physical violence, of disease, even malnutrition.”

Determining the cause of death is “certainly possible – I don’t think I could put it any more stronger than that”.

“And it depends entirely on the state of preservation. There is a very considerable time interval between death and recovery here of course,” he added.

When asked if he could examine the theory that the bodies might date to famine times, Mr Knupfer said this was a possibility.

The skeletal remains would need to be dated – and numerous approaches could be made to conduct this, he said.

Items and artefacts found in the burial site will also help with dating.

If any such work was to be conducted, the bodies would have to be unearthed, he explained.

 

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