Some body parts 'were disposed of'
Published 22/05/2012 | 12:41
Some body parts retained by police in Northern Ireland were disposed of without the consent or knowledge of their families, according to Northern Ireland's Justice Minister.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) kept human tissue samples relating to 63 suspicious and unexplained deaths between 1960 and 2005.
A helpline has been established for relatives of people whose body parts were kept.
Stormont Minister David Ford said: "The state pathologist has clarified to me that there were, in the past, occasions when human tissue was taken without the families' knowledge and subsequently disposed of without family consent or knowledge. To many that may seem a shocking statement."
The cases, including 23 attributed to the conflict, were discovered as part of a UK-wide audit. The Commission for Victims and Survivors set up the helpline. Mr Ford meets members of the Commission in a fortnight to consider matters raised by victims' families and any unanswered questions.
Brendan McAllister, the commission's chairman, said: "It is important now for this situation to proceed in an atmosphere of calmness."
He appealed to the community to remain sensitive to those who have lost someone through violence or in other tragic circumstances and who may be especially vulnerable to distress arising from this situation.
He added: "With regard to the emergence of disturbing information about the retention of body parts by agencies of the state, it is important that we remember the motivation of those involved, to serve the public by helping to determine the cause of death or by providing forensic evidence to help secure justice.
"Nevertheless, ours is a wounded society which is still vulnerable to the long reach of a violent past. These new revelations about the retention of body parts may cause victims, families or individuals to suffer new distresses and even suspicions."
Last week, Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton apologised for the distress caused to families but said the PSNI had acted within the law. The body parts were retained as part of investigations and could include skulls and organs.