Staithes, North Yorkshire…where the still unidentified body washed ashore in 1969. Copyright John Keeling

In recent blogs I have detailed my research into the ongoing mystery of the unidentified body of a naked man found 50 years ago in the North Yorkshire fishing village of Staithes.

Following a request to the National Crime Agency’s Missing Persons Unit, Adam Harland of the Cold Case Review Unit, Cleveland & North Yorkshire Police Major Investigation Team, has informed me that the case has finally been added to the national online database, entry no. 19-006963.

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Entry into Missing Persons Unit website after 50 years…note comment ‘Possible injury to temple.’

Coroner’s Inquest ‘Found’

In addition, despite Teeside and North Yorkshire authorities claiming the Coroner’s inquest for the case was missing, my correspondence with MP Michael Gove, and his subsequent enquiries to the Ministry of Justice, have resulted in the file being ‘found’ in the North Yorks Archives.

However, the Senior Coroner for North Yorkshire, Mr Robert Turnbull, refuses access to the file on the grounds that I am not an ‘interested party’ as defined by the Coroner’s Act, 2009. Of course, in this instance there is no relative to pursue the case – so who speaks for the dead?

I asked Mr. Turnbull if he would at least provide an inventory of the witness statements to the Coroner in 1969, and advise whether or not post-mortem photographs were available, and if so, could they have assisted the original police investigation in producing an artist’s impression or identi-fit image? There is no evidence that such an image was produced during the original investigation, despite assertions that an exhaustive effort had been made through media appeals.

Once again, that request was declined.

I put the questions regarding the availability of photographic evidence to the North Yorks Cold Case team and was told:

The only retained material is that which is held by the Coroner, and we act under his direction in any regard to any disclosure. There are very limited lines of enquiry arising from this material, and we are undertaking those enquiries. To date I am afraid they have not proved productive.

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

Where Are Police Files?

If the ‘only retained material’ is held by the Corner, what happened to the original Police investigation files? If the Coroner could not determine how the body came to be in the sea, he can only have issued an open verdict.

What are the circumstances surrounding this man’s death?

Whilst it is heartening that recent efforts have at least led to the incident finally being entered on the National Crime Agency database, that entry itself poses another question. My great Uncle, James Hansell of Staithes, who found the body, was adamant that the man’s features were perfectly recognisable and that there was an injury to the temple/forehead area. Michael Stephenson of Staithes, who also saw the body, described a ‘diamond-shaped’ wound in the same area. The NCA entry notes, ‘Possible injury to temple’. Surely, if there were post-mortem photographs in the Coroners file (as there should have been) it would be possible to state unequivocally there was an injury to the temple? Does this suggest no photographs were taken? Or that they are now ‘missing’?

If the photo’s exist, as they should, they could surely be used for a reconstruction image of the deceased.

What is the truth of the matter?

What are the authorities hiding?

Dead Man's Identity Still A Mystery
Newspaper clipping from 1969