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The Disappeared: Search team questions if Columba McVeigh's body was moved

The ICLVR says it has “no reason to believe” it was deliberately misled about the location of the body.

Updated Sep 23rd 2019, 4:43 PM

THE LEAD FORENSIC scientist in the search for The Disappeared has raised the prospect that the body of Columba McVeigh may have been removed in the 44 years since he was murdered and secretly buried by the IRA in 1975.

Geoff Knupfer made the comments as the latest search for the teenager’s remains in Bragan Bog near Emyvale was called off. 

McVeigh, from Donaghmore in Co Tyrone, was 17 when he was kidnapped and killed.

He is one of 16 who were ‘disappeared’ during the Troubles. Three remain to be found: McVeigh, Joe Lynskey, and Robert Nairac.

The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) organised several searches of Bragan Bog, the most recent starting in September 2018, with a hiatus from November until June of this year.

It is the fifth search of the bog and has now been called off.

ICLVR senior investigator Joe Hill has said they are confident McVeigh’s body is not in the bog. 

We covered the ground that had been identified to us and revisited areas that had been searched at the very beginning of the process nearly 20 years ago but to no avail.

He added: “If Columba had been here we would have found him. Be in no doubt about that.”

The search was described as a ‘challenging piece of work’ by Hill but he stressed that it was thorough and carried out to the highest standards.

Knupfer agreed that the group is sure the body is not in area of Bragan Bog they have searched, adding that they have “no reason to believe” that they were deliberately mislead about the location of the body but that the body may have been “removed from the original site”.

“Everyone we have spoken to in the Republican movement who can speak with authority on the case is adamant that Columba was buried where they told us he was. We have no reason to believe that we have been deliberately mislead,” Knupfer said.

One possibility that has always been there is that at some point for whatever reason his remains were removed from their original site and buried somewhere else. Bragan Bog covers a huge area. It may be that Columba’s remains are indeed on the bog but clearly not where we have been told to look. If he was moved than we need someone who has knowledge of that to come forward. 

In a statement, McVeigh’s sister Dympna Kerr said:

“It’s impossible to describe the continuing pain and torment of yet another year passing and another search ending with Columba still lying in some desolate unmarked hole in the ground where he was left by his murderers.

All we want is for him to be brought home to be buried alongside his mother and father so that he and they can rest in peace.
Speaking this afternoon on RTÉ’s News at One, Kerr added that the search of the bog has been going on since last year and she’s confident that if her brother’s body was there he would have been found.
It started on the 17 September last year. And then it finished on 2 November due to weather conditions and all the rest. And then it restarted again in June, and it’s gone on to now. And trust me, the team that are up there, they’re experts in what they do. And when they say he is not there he’s not. I trust them 100%, he’s not where they’re being told he is. 
Asked what finding the Columba’s body would mean to the family, an emotional Kerr said.
Oh god, what would that mean? It means that we can give him a proper funeral. We can take him up to Donaghmore chapel, have a requiem mass, take him up. Put him in the grave beside our mom and dad and just end this torment. 

McVeigh’s brother has Oliver raised questions over whether those who provided information that the remains were buried in the bog were misleading investigators, adding that this latest blow will only strengthen the family’s resolve.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said in a statement that he was “saddened and disappointed” by the news. 

“I appeal also to those carrying long-held secrets, from what were awful, terrible times, to share what information they have – they may hold the key to unlocking the uncertainty and grief of those families who are still desperately waiting and hoping,” he said. 

ICLVR said that anyone in the Republican movement who can speak with authority on the case is ‘adamant’ that the remains are in the bog.

Anyone with information relating to the whereabouts of the remains of Joe Lynskey, Columba McVeigh or Robert Nairac can contact:

  • CrimeStoppers (UK) on 0800 555 111
  • Fill in the untraceable anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org 
  • Contact the ICLVR in complete confidence on 00800 555 85500
  • Write to the ICLVR, PO Box 10827, Dublin 2
  • Or via the website www.iclvr.ie.

With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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Nicky Ryan

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