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Howard and Byrne Solicitors, York - Criminal Defence Specialists

Sutton Bank Body Exhumation

SUTTON BANK (wax head)

11:48am 16th January 2012
(Updated 1:07pm 23rd January 2012)

As part of North Yorkshire Police's cold case reviews of unidentified bodies, permission has been granted for the exhumation of the body of a woman know as "the Sutton Bank body".

The woman's body was buried in Malton cemetery (off Pasture Lane) and police have been given permission to exhume her remains to extract DNA material in the hope that it will lead to the identity of the woman.

To enable police to carry out this sensitive operation, the cemetery will be closed from the early morning of Monday 23rd January 2012. The exhumation will take place overnight from Monday 23rd to Tuesday 24th January 2012, we expect the cemetery to reopen on the afternoon of Wednesday 25th January 2012.

Exhumation timescale

Preparation work will commence on the morning of Monday 23rd January 2012 with the erection of the barrier and forensic tent.

Work to remove the body from the grave will begin at midnight on Monday 23rd January 2012. This is to ensure there is minimal disruption to the cemetery and to the local community, and to allow the forensic work to begin at the start of the working day.

The grave will be dug manually. The operation to remove the remains is expected to take approximately seven hours.

The remains will be taken away to allow DNA to be taken from the femur, and the teeth if possible. They are expected to be reinterred on Wednesday (25th January) morning.

A religious minister will attend during the exhumation and will perform a short service when the remains are reinterred. A wreath will be laid by North Yorkshire Police.

Permission to exhume the body has been obtained from Her Majesty's Coroner Michael Oakley. A warrant of exhumation has been issued under the provisions of Section 23 of the Coroners' Act 1988.

North Yorkshire Police have also informed the families whose relatives are buried in the vicinity of the grave of the unknown woman.

500 leaflets will be distributed to local residents and businesses to explain what is happening.

PICTURED: Wax head of what the victim may have looked like

SUTTON BANK (wax head)

Background to the case - From North Yorkshire Police

Thirty years ago on an unclassified road between Sutton Bank and the rural villages of Scawton and Rievaulx, officers made a grim discovery.

Laying in the undergrowth beside the quiet road used by locals and the occasional caravan were the skeletal remains of a woman's body.

North Yorkshire Police had received an anonymous call tipping them off about the body on 28 August 1981. To this day, the identity of the caller is still unknown as is the identity of the dead woman.

The discovery of the woman's remains sparked an 18-month investigation, led by Detective Chief  Superintendent  Strickland Carter, who needed to establish who she was and what she was doing there.

A forensic examination of the body was inconclusive as was the post mortem, which failed to establish a cause of death.

No jewellery or personal belongings were found on or nearby the body which could help to identify her and a Home Office pathologist estimated that she may have lain in the undergrowth for up to two years due to the state of the body and the level of plant growth around her.

Further examinations of the mystery woman's remains established that she was around 5ft 2in tall, aged between 35 and 40, with short, dark-coloured hair.

Pathologists also found an old fracture to her right ankle . Unfortunately, the physical characteristics of the body were not conclusive enough to secure an identification.

During the enquiry, extensive investigations were conducted and a number of people were put forward as the deceased, however it was not possible to identify a positive match.

One line of enquiry was the possibility that the woman was an escaped prisoner from Askham Grange open prison. However, this line of enquiry  was not progressed as proof of life was sent in the form of two thumb prints with  a signature from the Republic of Ireland.

At the time of the initial investigation, a three-dimensional wax reconstruction of the woman's head was produced. It was the first of its kind and demonstrated that police were keen to use new technology to get to the bottom of the mystery which faced them.

In the decades that have elapsed since the discovery of the body, there have been significant developments in the technology available to the police, yet still the woman remains unidentified.

Thirty years on the same questions remain. Who was the anonymous caller that sparked the investigation and could hold all the answers? Who was the woman found at the side of a country road at the top of Sutton Bank? What was she doing there? How did she die?

Despite the long passage of time since the mystery woman's body was discovered, North Yorkshire Police's commitment to finding the answers to these questions remains unchanged. Her family deserve answers.

PICTURED: The road from the A170 to Scorton and Rievaulx where the body was found as it looks today

The road from the A170 to Scorton and Rievaulx where the body was found as it looks today.

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