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Staithes in a fret. The North Yorks harbour where the body a still-unidentified man was discovered in 1969. Copyright John Keeling.

 

Further to my blog, detailing the research undertaken into the 50-year mystery of the still-unidentified body found at Staithes, North Yorkshire, on Thursday 28th August, 1969, by my Great Uncle James Hansell, and the man’s burial in Loftus Cemetery:

I have written to a number of Ministers, Government departments and police authorities, regarding the apparent loss of all records regarding this incident, including the Coroners inquest, suggesting an exhumation of the man’s remains for DNA testing is entirely justified – especially since contemporary media accounts state the Coroner could not determine how the man’s body had come to be in the water.

Simon Clarke MP

First to answer was MP for Middlesborough South and East Cleveland, Simon Clarke, who wrote on 27th June, 2019:

‘I agree that this is a regrettable state of affairs but it appears that the Teesside Archives have provided you with an honest answer regarding how this has occurred and given the multiple reorganisations involved in this case it seems unlikely that it will be possible to determine responsibility for the loss of these records.’

With respect to Mr. Clarke, why should anything less than an honest response be expected from local government archives? The matter of the missing Coroner records of Bernard Wilkinson spanning 46 years is surely a serious matter in its own right?

Mr. Clarke continues:

‘Whilst the coroners report you outline [only from a press report] was not entirely conclusive…I am unconvinced that exhumation of the body half a century after the event is in the public interest or an appropriate use of public money.’

I cannot agree. Because of apparently multiple bureaucratic failings, it is not even possible for police or other authorities to determine the validity of a cold-case investigation since there are evidently no surviving records at all.

James Hansell of Staithes, North Yorkshire
Villager, James ‘Jim’ Hansell, who safeguarded the Staithes mystery body until help could arrive. Copyright John Keeling

Police & Crime Commissioner for Cleveland

Jayne Harpe, Support Officer of PCC Barry Coppinger, emailed that the PCC:

‘has now considered the information provided in your correspondence [but] has no power or jurisdiction in relation to the suggestion of an exhumation. In relation to the retention of Coroner’s records, I will forward your correspondence to Cleveland Police Head of Information Management, and ask that you be contacted directly in relation to the points you have raised.

Although the PCC cannot offer any further assistance in this matter, he has expressed an interest in this, and has asked me to liaise with the Head of Information Management in order to be kept up to date with enquiries and the outcome.’ [Emphasis mine]

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

My own MP, Michael Gove, offered more tangible support in his email of 11 July, 2019:

‘I have written on your behalf to Edward Argar MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice…to bring your email to his attention. I have asked him to investigate the case you so meticulously describe in your letter, and to offer any assistance he can to try and help resolve the mystery.

I shall let you know as soon as I have his reply.’

I await Michael Gove’s response with great interest.

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View towards Sandy Wyke, Cowbar, Staithes, North Yorkshire, where a still-unidentified body of a man was discovered on August 28th, 1969. Copyright John Keeling

 

Following Simon Clarke MP’s first letter, he emailed on 18 July, 2019:

‘This is a very tragic case. At this length of time, I suspect it may be very difficult to conduct such an investigation, but I absolutely understand why this is important to you. As an issue of strict parliamentary protocol, the request you are making must be directed through your own constituency MP…so I would urge you to send this [request] to them.’

Mr. Gove had already contacted me with his offer of assistance before Mr. Clarke’s latter correspondence arrived.

 

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A 50-year mystery. Cowbar, Staithes, where the body of a still-unidentified man was discovered on August 28th, 1969. Copyright John Keeling

 

Additional correspondence had been sent to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Minister of Justice David Gauke and PCC for North Yorkshire in June (before the new Government re-shuffle). As yet there have been no replies from those offices and given the hiatus following the re-shuffle it is difficult to estimate the likelihood of receiving any. I will re-send to the newly appointed Ministers.

This case is important. The body of a man, buried in Loftus cemetery in 1969, remains unidentified to this day. Bureaucratic failings (at best) prevent any meaningful opportunity to assess the original police investigation and the Coroner’s inquiry. (Don’t the people of Cleveland/North Yorkshire also deserve an explanation as to how 46 years with of Coroner records have gone missing?)

Research for the period at the British Newspaper Library has failed to uncover any meaningful public appeals from Guisborough police at the time (though there may well have been broadcast media appeals). And the slender newspaper accounts available do not even show an identikit image of the deceased man found washed ashore at Staithes, 6 weeks after Neil Armstrong had walked on the Moon. [It is not facetious to point out that 2 of those astronauts, who were in their late 30’s, are still alive today]. Surely an identikit image would have been provided by police to support appeals for the man’s identity?

But it is still possible to provide one means of possible identification: DNA. Since this man has been so singularly failed by bureaucracy, surely an exhumation of his remains for DNA forensics is entirely justified? And the only hope of solving a 50-year mystery.

Footnote:

Subsequent to my first blog on this story, some additional details can be added regarding the fishermen who actually brought the body from the Sandy Wyke to Staithes beck. RNLI volunteer, Colin Harrison recalls:

‘I remember it well. My Dad, (also) Colin Harrison, and I were going under the cliffs to norrard (Northwards) when we saw Jim (Hansell). He came over and spoke to my Dad and said that I shouldn’t go on any further because there was a body; Jim had thought it was a porpoise at first. I was duly sent home and I think it was Dad helped recover the body. It might have been my uncle George (Harrison) too, as well as Matt Verrill Snr and junior – as their warehouses were next to each other on Northside (of the beck). The body was brought back to the Tarmac hut next to Mr Judd’s house (now the lifeboat station again), which was there for the workmen doing restoration/improvements to the North pier.’

And Staithes villager, Eileen Wright, recalls her relative, James Wright, also helped carry the body from under the cliff. Wright fished with George Harrison at the time.

If anyone has any further information related to this case, I can also be contacted at jk@johnkeelingmedia.com

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