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Mystery over baby skeleton wrapped in 1930's newspaper

The story began with the grisly discovery of the skeleton of a baby wrapped in a newspaper from the 1930s and hidden between the floorboards in the attic of a derelict house in Portstewart.

One month on and detectives have consulted the Home Office, police forces across the UK, forensic experts, and even one of the UK’s best known chocolate manufacturers in an effort to uncover the sad story behind the shocking find.

An initial examination of the remains confirmed it was a baby and that it was carried to full term, but to date, much about the case remains shrouded in mystery, including whether the child was a boy or a girl.

Detectives are confident the baby was born and hidden in the house in the 1930s — in addition to a London Evening Standard dated 1935, which was wrapped around the body, a magazine, My Weekly, and a Bourneville chocolate wrapper were also found nearby.

Detective Inspector Sean Fitzpatrick, who is heading up the investigation, explained: “We contacted Bourneville and learned that the wrapper was only printed between 1934 and 1937, so that has narrowed things down.

“The bones are being carbon dated and although they will not be able to give us a specific date, the tests will tell us whether the remains are pre- or post-1950s.

“We know the baby was carried to full term, but we don’t know whether it was stillborn or whether it died after birth. Certainly, there are no signs of any injuries, but we have also been unable to get any DNA from the remains.

“We have also been in contact with the National Police Improvement Agency which was set up to bring together experts from various fields across the UK together to assist with investigations and they have put us in touch with police who have been involved in similar cases.

“The remains are currently with a forensic anthropologist and pathologist and they are trying to ascertain the sex of the baby. Once we know that, we will hopefully be in a position to register the birth and then the death.”

Even though DI Fitzpatrick admitted it is unlikely the cause of death will be established, he said it is incumbent on police to investigate the find to rule out the possibility of any criminal proceedings.

Of course, this particular inquiry is severely hampered by the passage of time.

“We have been looking at the census records to try and determine who lived at the property in the 1930s, but the records from 1931 were destroyed in a fire so we have to work on the records from 1911,” said DI Fitzpatrick.

“We are in touch with the Home Office who hold fingerprint records from that time and are checking to see whether there is any match with fingerprints from the newspaper.

Unfortunately, at that time fingerprints were only taken from people involved in very serious crimes, so this will only yield information if the person involved in this case was also involved in a serious crime.

“We have also been talking to people who lived in the area at the time, but it is some 74 years later and they are elderly. However, from this, we do think we know who lived in the house, but unfortunately we believe they are now deceased.”

DI Fitzpatrick said he does not believe the female resident was the mother of the baby, but may have assisted her during or following the birth.

The find has taken investigators back to an era in Northern Ireland when a range of circumstances were enough to force many new mothers to murder their own child.

“There are so many possibilities — the mother could have been unmarried, the baby could have been the result of an affair; perhaps it was stillborn,” continued DI Fitzpatrick.

“The mother could have been a young girl or, in talking to people about that time, we learned that often if a baby was born with a deformity the midwife wouldn’t even have let it have its first breath. We also have to consider the possibility the mother was a nun because there was a convent nearby.

“The truth is we will probably never know because we are really relying on the people involved telling us what actually happened and the likelihood is they are dead. I would like to find out what happened, though, because they could have surviving family out there, siblings even.”

Belfast Telegraph