DNA technology solves 40-year missing persons case

Remains of a man were located in UK and identified using DNA sample taken from his half-brother

Advanced DNA technology has been employed by Irish forensic scientists to solve a 40-year-old missing person’s case.

The technology, known as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), was used to match the remains of a man found in the UK with a person reported missing from Co Wexford in 1982.

UK authorities contacted the Garda Missing Person’s Bureau earlier this year for help in identifying the remains of the body of a male. Gardaí contacted Forensic Science Ireland (FSI), which used NGS to match a DNA sample from the body to a sample obtained from the missing man’s half-brother. The results showed a positive match.

NSG allows scientists to obtain DNA matches, even if the samples are from not-immediate family members of missing persons.


Technological strides

FSI has recently obtained and validated the technology and plans to expand its use when it moves to its new headquarters in Backweston, Dublin, next year, a spokesman said ahead of National Missing Persons Day on Wednesday.

It is hoped that the technology will help to find matches for some of the 31 DNA samples held by the State relating to unidentified human remains it holds. The oldest of the remains date back to the Tuskar Rock air crash in 1968.

FSI said it has assisted the Garda with 71 missing persons investigations so far this year and continued advances in technology have helped to resolve 12 cases.

Kinship system

Another major development is the adoption in Ireland of Interpol’s DNA Kinship system, known as I-Familia, which allows for DNA comparisons of multiple family members with unknown human remains in other jurisdictions. This system was used to identify five of the 12 solved cases this year.

The Kinship system was used in the case of a woman who was reported missing in Ireland last February. In October, a DNA sample from the remains of an unidentified woman found in Northern Ireland was obtained via Interpol and matched to profiles taken from the missing woman’s brother and son.

In many cases, obtaining DNA samples from the family members of missing persons is vital to bringing closure and identifying remains. “It could make all the difference in an unsolved case,” an FSI spokesman said.

A special drive to collect such samples is to take place on Missing Persons Day but family members can provide one at any time by contacting the Garda Missing Persons Bureau. A ceremony to mark the occasion, attended by Minister of State for Justice James Browne and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is to take place in Croke Park on Wednesday.

As well as missing persons cases, DNA technology, including the DNA database, has been vital is solving many serious crimes, FSI said. Since its launch, the National DNA database has aided 5,500 investigations.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times