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Concern over retention of body parts, human tissue by PSNI

An audit of the PSNI has revealed that human tissue was retained in 67 cases of violent or unexplained deaths.

Image: PA/PA Wire/Press Association Images

THE PSNI HAS come under fire today after an audit revealed that it had retained body parts or human tissue of victims no longer required for criminal investigations.

According to BBC News, body parts and tissue samples were kept in 67 cases of suspicious and unexplained deaths between 1960 and 2005 without notifying the families.

The PSNI confirmed that the number includes significant parts of the body such as organs, skulls and bones.

The revelation came after an audit by the Human Tissue Authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is understood some of the samples belong to victims of the Troubles.

SDLP Policing spokesperson Conall McDevitt said he was deeply concerned about the matter. The South Belfast MLA is also the chairman of the Policing Board’s Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee.

Speaking to Morning Ireland today, he said the revelations show a “real lack of acknowledgement of the potential impact on the families of this type of information coming to light in this way”. The audit was not due to be published formally until next Monday.

Speaking at the House of Commons, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “extremely sorry that this report has been leaked,” adding that it was a “time of huge anguish” for families.

Although the PSNI are legally entitled to retain body parts, McDevitt said they are under an “undoubted moral, ethical and human duty” to tell family members of the circumstances to ensure there is no revictimisation or retrauma.

I am told it is not an uncommon practice but only done in exceptional circumstances. I think the issue here isn’t so much the retention of the tissue or body part, but it was the absolute failure to notify the families.

The PSNI is now sending trained Family Liaison Officer to visit the affected families to inform them of their options.

“We know this will be an incredibly difficult time for those families involved and we will provide all the possible support we can to them,” police said.

In a statement issued, the PSNI added:

Under the powers available to police to investigate crimes, there is no requirement to get consent from families to seize this kind of evidence. It still remains the case that police can retain human tissue under the powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence (NI) Order (PACE) and are not subject to regulation by the Human Tissue Authority. However, all police now routinely review the reason for all continued retention of samples and endeavour to adhere to the guidance issued by the Human Tissue Authority.

Answering a Question to the Prime Minister about the matter this morning, Cameron said that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will ”listen carefully” about what form of inquiry needs to be held but said that the public should wait until the report has been published in full next Monday “so that everybody can see what went wrong and why this has happened.

-Additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell

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