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Missing doctor's family demand answers after 'distressing' new search

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Mystery: Dr Deirdre O’Flaherty

Mystery: Dr Deirdre O’Flaherty

Mystery: Dr Deirdre O’Flaherty

The family of a Co Tyrone doctor who disappeared on a remote beach in Donegal 10 years ago say that Garda has questions to answer over a new search that has left them "distressed".

Deirdre Donnelly O'Flaherty has not been seen since January 2009 when her car was discovered at Kinnego Bay.

No trace was ever found of the 46-year-old, who had been staying at a nearby holiday home with her husband Ken and their children Johnny, who was 16 at the time, Thomas, then 15, and Natalie, who was seven.

Mrs Donnelly O'Flaherty, who worked as an out-of-hours doctor in Strabane, had a history of depression.

In 2012 a judge in Belfast formally declared that she had drowned after entering the sea.

Last week, as her family prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, the Garda carried out a search for her body 60 miles away from where her car was left.

The land search and excavation, centred on the site of a wind farm close to Rathmullan in Co Donegal, was carried out by members of the Donegal Divisional Search Team and Garda Technical Bureau along with private contractors.

On Friday police announced that nothing had been found.

In a statement yesterday, the Donnelly and O'Flaherty families said they were "distressed" by the new search, which they said was "entirely unexpected".

They expressed their heartfelt gratitude to those who sent messages of support over what for them has been "a tumultuous and distressing week" leading up to the anniversary of Deirdre's disappearance. They said the search was conducted 17 months after an anonymous letter was received by the Garda claiming to know where her remains were buried.

"The families are relieved only because this ordeal is over, although in our view the outcome was not in doubt," they said. "Notification that gardai were going to carry out a land search for Deirdre was entirely unexpected, not least given that the finding by order of Judge Deeney at Belfast High Court on January 12, 2012 that Deirdre had 'gone into the water and drowned' was supported by the oral evidence of the investigating Garda Sergeant.

"As far as the families are aware there has not in fact been any ongoing search for Deirdre since at least that time.

"The families had only three days' advance notice of the gardai excavations near Milford, Co Donegal, and therefore had little time to prepare for the consequences of the very public, national exposure of this story during the week.

"Gardai confirmed to the families at that time that the decision to conduct the excavation in a remote area over 50 miles from her last known whereabouts flowed from an anonymous note handed in to a Garda station in Co Monaghan in August 2017.

"This note apparently provided precise map coordinates for the location of Deirdre's remains.

"The families have not seen this note and this information was not made public due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

"In their Press release on Friday, gardai stated that they had 'found nothing to further the search'. Accordingly, the families have requested a meeting with the gardai investigation team to discuss a number of questions relating to the conduct, conclusions and consequences of this investigation."

The Garda said it will not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Belfast Telegraph