Body found in UK could be Irishman missing for 20 years

Body of elderly man found on remote hillside, police request DNA from family in North

Hugh Toner from Co Armagh has been missing since 1994, Photograph: Greater Manchester police

Hugh Toner from Co Armagh has been missing since 1994, Photograph: Greater Manchester police

 

The body of an unidentified man found on a remote hillside outside Manchester could be an Irish-born grandfather who has been missing for more than two decades, detectives in the UK have said.

Police in Greater Manchester have spent six weeks investigating the death of an elderly man who travelled more than 300km to Saddleworth Moor and died during treacherous conditions.

Now they are looking into whether the man could be Hugh Toner, who has been missing for more than 20 years.

Mr Toner, who would now be 78, went missing from a hospital in Co Armagh on February 7th, 1994. Despite numerous appeals by his family and police, Toner has never been found.

DNA samples have been requested from his family in Northern Ireland. He also had links to Bath and Swindon.

Det Sgt John Coleman said: “We are keeping a completely open mind. We are still investigating other avenues but we are also looking into missing persons. We have requested DNA samples from the family of Mr Toner.

There is a resemblance to our gentlemen and we are getting his DNA in order to establish whether this is the same person.”

A number of theories have been explored, including that the man may have been making a pilgrimage to the scene of a plane crash that killed 24 people in 1949, possibly because he was related to one of the victims. Police said Mr Toner does not have any links with the plane crash.

There was also speculation that the person found may have been one of the survivors of the plane crash. Two young boys survived the accident; Stephen Evans and Michael Prestwich, aged five and two at the time, were saved from the wreckage.

Mr Prestwich later died in a train accident. Police initially thought Mr Evans was the unidentified man, but this was discounted when he contacted police on Wednesday morning.

‘Open mind’

Three babies were among those killed in the crash, which happened after the plane from Belfast struck a mist-covered hill in Saddleworth, about 24km from Manchester Airport, its intended destination. Eight people survived. Police are still investigating links to the plane crash but said they were now also focusing on missing persons.

Coleman said: “We are keeping a completely open mind. It’s an ongoing, large piece of work and one of our lines of inquiry. Was this gentleman revisiting the scene of the crash because he was on the flight? Or he is a relative of anyone on the flight?”

Last week, pictures of the dead man, aged between 65 and 75, were circulated to GPs nationwide, and detectives from Manchester travelled to London and visited hostels, hotels and pubs to try to discover his identity.

Officers identified the smartly dressed man in CCTV footage from Ealing, west London, where he is believed to have started his journey on the morning of December 11th.

He arrived in Manchester shortly after midday after taking a train from London, then went to Greenfield, near Saddleworth, and visited the Clarence pub at 2pm, where he asked the landlord how to get to the top of the 1,500ft (457m) Indian’s Head peak, above Dovestone reservoir.

Despite warnings from the landlord, Mel Robinson, about treacherous weather conditions, the man left the pub and was spotted by witnesses walking up the hill at about 4.30pm. His body was found the next morning by a passing cyclist, lying face up on a boggy section of track. He was wearing slip-on shoes and had £130 (€170) in cash in his pockets, along with three train tickets, including a return ticket to London. He was carrying no documentation.

An initial postmortem proved inconclusive and police are awaiting toxicology reports. A secondary autopsy is due next week.

Guardian Service