Garda excavate lands in search for female GP missing since 2009

Dig comes after letter claimed to know exact location of remains of Dr Deirdre O’Flaherty who vanished in Donegal

Dr Deirdre O’Flaherty’s car was found at Kinnego Beach on the Inishowen peninsula in January 2009 after she disappeared. Photograph: An Garda

Dr Deirdre O’Flaherty’s car was found at Kinnego Beach on the Inishowen peninsula in January 2009 after she disappeared. Photograph: An Garda

 

Gardaí have started excavating lands in Co Donegal for the remains of a doctor missing for a decade and who was believed to have drowned in the sea.

Gardaí began the dig, which is expected to last up to five days, after receiving a letter claiming to know the exact location of where the body of Deirdre O’Flaherty (46) is buried. The letter is being taken seriously.

Dr O’Flaherty, from Strabane in Co Tyrone was reported missing on January 11th 2009 at Moville.

A number of gardaí using a mini-digger moved onto the excavation site which is located between Rathmullan and Kerrykeel on Monday. The location is a very remote area of bogland which is popular with dog walkers.

Gardaí had initially considered using geothermal imaging in a bid to locate any body. However, because of the rocky nature of the terrain, it was decided to scrape away layers of soil using a smaller digger.

The excavation site is located between Rathmullan and Kerrykeel, a very remote area of bogland which is popular with dog walkers.
The excavation site is located between Rathmullan and Kerrykeel, a very remote area of bogland which is popular with dog walkers.

Gardaí have cordoned off the area and prevented members of the public from accessing the site while the excavation is carried out.

Mystery has always surrounded Dr O’Flaherty’s sudden disappearance.

When her car was found at a Co Donegal beach after she went missing in January 2009 it was assumed she had entered the water and drowned.

She was a mother of three who worked as a GP in Derry and practiced under her maiden name Donnelly. It was understood she had suffered from depression.

New legislation introduced in Northern Ireland just over a decade ago was used to declare Dr O’Flaherty dead three years after her disappearance despite her remains not being found.

A Garda standing at the entrance to the Windmill site near Kerrykeel in North Donegal, where the search is being undertaken. Photograph: North West Newspix
A Garda standing at the entrance to the Windmill site near Kerrykeel in North Donegal, where the search is being undertaken. Photograph: North West Newspix

Dr O’Flaherty’s case was the first time these new provisions were used to declare a person dead within three years. Previously a period of seven years was required before a missing person could be declared dead.

Dr O’Flahertyhad been staying with at her holiday home in Donegal, near where her car was found, with her husband and children when she disappeared.

Vehicle found

Her silver BMW SUV was found at Kinnego Beach on the Inishowen peninsula by a person out walking.

Her bank cards were not used after her disappearance and her bank accounts remained untouched.

The last confirmed sighting of her was on January 11th, 2009. Since then the Garda and PSNI have treated her disappearance as a missing person’s case.

Her family reported her missing on the same date. The disappearance of the 46-year-old was also reported to gardaí in Moville and prompted an extensive land and sea search at the time.

However, because she was from the North and lived there, both the PSNI and the Garda investigated the case.

The status of the case, a missing persons inquiry, has not changed despite the land searches and the fact that these searches are at odds with the assumption she entered the water.

Garda sources said while the case was still officially a missing persons inquiry, the current search was for Dr O’Flaherty’s remains or any other evidence in the case, such as clothing or personal items.

“An Garda Síochána in Co Donegal have commenced a land search and excavation in the Milford district,” a Garda statement said.

“The search forms part of a missing person investigation. An Garda Síochána are liaising closely with the relevant family and a Garda family liaison officer has been appointed.

“The search will be carried out by members of the Donegal divisional search team and Garda Technical Bureau along with private contractors and is expected to last up to five days.

“This development continues to form part of a missing person’s investigation and there is no change of status regarding same. An update will be provided when the search is completed.”