A fresh investigation in the IRA abduction and murder of farmer Tom Oliver has uncovered new DNA evidence, which investigators hope will lead to a prosecution.
Mr Oliver, an innocent farmer from the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth, was abducted and shot by the IRA in July 1991.
The body of the father-of-seven was dumped across the border in Co Armagh.
His son Eugene, at the age of 13, went looking for his father after he failed to return from calving a cow and discovered his car in a field with the keys in the ignition.
Using the techniques available to us today, we've recovered new DNA evidence that I am hoping will significantly assist us and this incredibly brave familyInvestigator Jon Boutcher
Jon Boutcher, the former chief constable of Bedfordshire who heads Operation Kenova, is investigating a number of unsolved murders in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the spot where Mr Oliver’s car was found, the former police chief said they have recovered new DNA evidence that he hopes will “significantly assist” their investigation.
The team has been investigating the murder of Mr Oliver since April 2019.
“In that time, working with the garda, we’ve taken a significant number of new statements, and I’m pleased to say, using the techniques available to us today, we’ve recovered new DNA evidence that I am hoping will significantly assist us and this incredibly brave family in understanding what happened to Thomas that day,” Mr Boucher said.
“I’ve got a couple of requests that I want to make today.
“Firstly, when Thomas was taken, a vehicle, a grey Ford, was seen at around about 7.40 that evening near Belleeks.
“We believe that vehicle deposited Tom’s body. A female called the information line for the police, and explained what she saw.
“We desperately want that lady to contact us.
“I also know that people in this community who live around here know what happened to Thomas that day. They know who was involved. And I need them to come and talk to us.
“At the time, and I understand this, and the family understand this, they would have felt that they weren’t able to come forward, that it wasn’t safe to come forward.
“I want to reassure them that they can now come forward. It is certainly safe to come forward and it would be right to come forward.
“I will deal with any information that they have with the utmost confidentiality and care.
“Please help us help this family finally understand what happened to Tom and who was responsible.”
Mr Oliver’s car, a blue Mark 4 Cortina, was recovered by the garda but later went missing.
Mr Boucher said he wants to know what happened to the car and appealed to the public to come forward with information.
“If you are local, are a garage, you would have known almost certainly because of this community spirit, Tom Oliver’s car, and if you know what happened to that Cortina please also let me know,” he added.
“Anybody with information about this case in general, who knows what happened to Tom – and people do and they are here and they will want to come forward and I can tell them absolutely they can come forward – please come and explain to us what happened.
“This is potentially the last chance for this family.”
Their investigation crosses both sides of the border and leads have taken them as far as Australia.
Mr Boucher said his team has pursued every line of inquiry, including the names of every individual associated with Mr Oliver’s murder.
“We have an understanding of the people who were involved in what happened to Tom, and at the conclusion of this investigation, I look forward to sitting down with the family and explaining what we understand happened,” he added.
“Let’s not be in any doubt, this is a criminal investigation and when you conduct a criminal investigation, you throw the kitchen sink at it to seek evidence, to prosecute those responsible for murder, which is the most serious crime that anybody can commit.
“We all know with legacy cases, and I accept and when I began these investigations, I knew that prosecutions would be the exception, they would be rare.
“But that doesn’t mean that you do not investigate these cases with potential prosecutions in mind.
“These families have got a right, morally and legally, and we have a responsibility to give them the hope that if we do get sufficient evidence to achieve the threshold of beyond all reasonable doubt required for prosecution.
“They have got the right to expect us to do that.”
He said he hopes the new DNA evidence will help them either prosecute somebody or help understand what happened to the farmer.
Family solicitor Darragh Mackin said the 30th anniversary of Mr Oliver’s murder brings mixed emotions for his relatives.
“In those 30 years, the family have grieved in silence without any meaningful investigation,” Mr Mackin said.
“There has been a catalogue of failed investigations which have been ineffective from their inception.
“After 30 years of a dignified silence, the family now have hope that the net is closing on those responsible for Tom’s murder.
“Operation Kenova has now confirmed that fresh evidence has come to light, which includes fresh DNA evidence.
“This is coupled with a focused investigation with specific lines of inquiry, not just nationally, but internationally.
“After 30 years, there’s now light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
“The family today I seek to call upon those with information to come forward and assist John Boucher with his inquiries.
“Tom’s case is the prime example on why there can be no limitation in time for investigating a murder.
“The family’s grief has no limitation, and neither can truth, justice, or accountability.”