Latest Columba McVeigh search fails amid fears body removed

The Disappeared: ‘Impossible to describe continuing pain of another search ending’

A dig being carried out previously on Bragan Bog in Co Monaghan for the remains of Columba McVeigh. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A dig being carried out previously on Bragan Bog in Co Monaghan for the remains of Columba McVeigh. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The search for the remains of one of the “Disappeared”, Columba McVeigh, has ended unsuccessfully in Co Monaghan, amid fears that his body may have been moved at some time since his original burial.

Mr McVeigh, from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, is among 16 people who were abducted, murdered and secretly buried by republicans during the North’s Troubles.

He was “disappeared” by the IRA in 1975, when he was aged 19.

Mr McVeigh’s sister, Dympna Kerr, said it was “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,” she said.

Possibility of removal

The lead forensic scientist and investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR), Geoff Knupfer, said there was a possibility that Mr McVeigh’s remains may have been removed from their original site and reburied somewhere else.

“Our hearts go out to the McVeigh family,” he said. “If Columba was in the area we have been searching then we would have found him.

“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 misled.”

He said Bragan Bog covers a huge area and “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 then we need someone who has knowledge of that to come forward.”

Mr McVeigh’s family thanked everyone who had been involved in the search, and appealed for anyone with information as to the location of their brother’s remains to come forward.

“Someone knows where he is,” said Ms Kerr. “If he was moved from one place to another, someone knows about that.

“If they have any decency or humanity about them, they will end this torture now.”

Mr McVeigh’s brother, Oliver, said the family were “devastated” by the failure to find his remains, but also angry. “Angry that people who have information are watching us suffer and are doing nothing,” he said.

“They keep saying that they have told the commission where he is.

“They’ve searched over 21 acres for Columba’s remains and the one thing we can say with complete certainty is that he is not where they are telling us he is, so we then have to look at the possibility, ‘Are they telling us the truth?’

“I don’t believe this is the end,” he said. “In fact it will just strengthen our resolve to locate Columba’s body by whatever means possible.”

Five searches

The ICLVR has been searching Bragan Bog, Co Monaghan, since September 2018. Five searches covering more than 21 acres of the bog have been carried out since 1999.

Jon Hill, senior ICLVR investigator, said it was a “huge disappointment” that Mr McVeigh’s remains had not been found, but they had done “absolutely everything we could” in often difficult circumstances.

“The terrain and the weather combined to make this latest search a very challenging piece of work,” he said.

“At times it was simply too dangerous to go on, which is why the search was paused last year.

“That said it was a very thorough search carried out to the highest standards.

“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.

“If Columba had been here we would have found him,” he said. “Be in no doubt about that.”

Mr Knupfer urged “anyone who can help us bring this tragic story to an end to please make contact”.

‘Cast-iron protections’

He said that all information would be “treated in the strictest confidence and there are cast-iron legal protections in place”.

Earlier this year an anonymous donor offered $60,000 as a reward for information given to the Crimestoppers charity that leads to the recovery of any or all of the three outstanding Disappeared cases – the remains of Joe Lynskey, Columba McVeigh and Robert Nairac.

Anyone with information relating to the whereabouts of the remains of the three should contact CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111 and the untraceable anonymous online form is at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

The ICLVR can be contacted by telephone: 00800-55585500, International: +353 1 602 8655, via email at Secretary@iclvr.ie, or by post at ICLVR PO Box 10827.