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Brother's fresh hope for justice as net closes on killer who bludgeoned Northern Ireland nurse Susan Donoghue to death as she slept

Police make DNA breakthrough in 40-year-old unsolved murder that horrified Britain

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 12/08/2016

Susan Donoghue was killed by an intruder at her home in Bristol
Susan Donoghue was killed by an intruder at her home in Bristol
Detectives at the murder scene in Sneyd Park
A truncheon which was left behind along with a pair of bloodstained gloves
A tobacco tin left at the scene
A truncheon was left behind along with a pair of bloodstained gloves

The brother of a Northern Ireland nurse brutally murdered 40 years ago has said a DNA breakthrough by cold-case detectives has given him fresh hope of justice.

Susan Donoghue, a mother-of-one, was bludgeoned to death as she slept at her home in Bristol in 1976. Despite a huge manhunt at the time, her killer was never caught, and it remains one of the UK's most infamous unsolved murders. But now police believe they have made a major breakthrough. Using advances in technology, they have a full DNA profile of the killer.

Her brother Seamus McGeary (72), who still lives at the family home near Fintona in Co Tyrone, was told of the development in the last few days. He said it came as a shock, but believes it could be the first step to finally nailing Susan's killer.

"It was a surprise, I thought everything was gone because so many years have gone by," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"They have made great strides in technology, so maybe they will get somebody. That is about all I can hope for. It would help bring some closure for me."

Susan's murder, during the famously hot summer of 1976, horrified the UK. She was found dead in her basement flat at Sneyd Park, Bristol.

The 44-year-old had been bludgeoned to death and sexually assaulted. Despite an extensive murder inquiry at the time, her killer was never caught.

Seamus added: "Susan was brutally murdered. "They thought maybe it was someone in the hospital where she worked, but they never got anybody.

"Like thousands of other people, even in our own country here, I've never given up hope.

"But years and years have passed and they didn't get anyone, and you wonder if the person they were looking for has passed away themselves."

Susan grew up as part of a large family in Lisnacrieve, near Fintona, and attended the local primary school and Loreto Grammar School in Omagh.

Later she moved to Belfast where she trained as a nurse, and got a job in Kent.

Some time afterwards she married and relocated to the Channel Islands. But the marriage broke down, and she moved to Bristol, where Seamus and two other brothers were living. She got engaged to a new man, Dennis, and at the time of her death was working as a night sister at Brentry, the local psychiatric hospital.

According to police she was attacked in bed as she slept. She had been unwell and had taken the night off from work. Her killer hit her seven times with a truncheon, which was left behind along with a pair of bloodstained gloves and a tobacco tin.

Detectives had few clues or tip-offs and failed to come up with a motive. They were unable to trace several people who were in the area, including a mysterious "man in dark glasses" seen near a local church at the time of her funeral.

Another man - possibly the same person - was seen two months later at Susan's graveside, examining the inscriptions on the flowers and wreaths. Police also failed to track down a clairvoyant who Susan was due to see a fortnight before she died. The appointment had been ringed in her diary, but cancelled.

Previously Det Supt John Robinson, who led a 20-strong murder investigation team, said the killer may have been a petty housebreaker.

Now, 40 years on, a new team of detectives has made a major breakthrough, building a full DNA profile of the killer. The same techniques were used to secure the conviction earlier this year of Christopher Hampton for the 1984 murder of Melanie Road.

DCI Julie MacKay, who brought Hampton to justice, is heading up the investigation into Susan's murder.

She said: "As we saw with the Melanie Road case, the passage of time since a murder is no longer an obstacle in securing justice for these victims. The technology used in DNA forensics has come a long way since Susan was murdered and we now have a full DNA profile of the man who sexually abused and murdered her.

"The key to solving this horrific crime is in the painstaking and methodical work my team is undertaking to make sure all the information we have is on the right systems.

"I am convinced that someone out there has information on what happened that August night in 1976. Susan was a well-liked and respected woman who was brutally murdered in her own home and I am determined to bring her killer to justice."

At the time of her death Susan had an 18-year-old son, who now lives abroad.

"He is really pleased that we are still interested, are still investigating and it still matters, and he takes a lot of hope from that," DCI McKay said. "Nothing would make him happier than if we identified the person responsible for killing his mum."

Previous attempts to reopen the case have ended in failure.

In 1995 a review saw DNA from the scene put on the National DNA Database, but failed to draw a match. A further review took place in 1997 and 1998, including a mass screening of potential suspects identified from the original investigation.

DNA searches in 2005 and 2009 also failed to provide a breakthrough, but police are now convinced they can solve the case.

Seamus, meanwhile, says he is hopeful that the culprit can be caught all these years later.

"Susan was a very nice woman, she was a good nurse," he added. "She had another four sisters. They have all passed away.

"We called her Suzie. She was just a very nice, pleasant woman. Tall and elegant, and she was well into the style of the day.

"She would have had a hard enough life in Fintona. She had to leave because there were no jobs here. What happened to her was very sad. It would mean a lot to me for her killer to be caught."

Timeline of probe

August 4, 1976: Susan was suffering from a cold so she took the night off work. Her partner left her flat at approximately 12.15am on August 5.

August 5, 1976: At 7.15am, Susan’s partner returns and finds her body in bed. She had suffered serious head injuries. A pair of gloves and a truncheon are also found at the scene with Susan’s blood on them. Evidence suggested that Susan had been subjected to a sexual assault and forensic tests confirmed the presence of human semen. A footprint was found on the inside windowsill of a half opened window in the room adjacent to the bedroom.

1976: The original investigation consisted of more than 80 officers and lasts more than 12 months.

1995: A review of the case is undertaken. The DNA from the semen is put on the National DNA Database but there is no hit.

1997/98: A further review takes place. There is also a mass screening of potential suspects identified from the original investigation. Crimestoppers also run an appeal for information. There is still no match on the database.

2005: The DNA profile is upgraded due to advances in technology and remains on the National DNA Database. Some familial DNA screening is conducted but the offence remains undetected.

2009: Another familial DNA run is conducted but there is still no hit.

2016: Detectives reveal scientific advances have enabled them to build a full DNA profile of the killer.

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