An inquest on a man whose skeleton was found on a peer’s Cirencester estate two and a half years ago was concluded yesterday (December 17) – even though his identity and cause of death remain a mystery, writes John Hawkins.
Despite extensive investigations by police and a variety of medical experts, as well as DNA checks across Europe, nothing has been found to establish who the man was or how he came to die on Earl Bathurst’s 15,000 acre Cirencester Park Estate.
Yesterday the assistant Gloucestershire Coroner, Roland Wooderson, drew a line under the investigation by conducting an inquest in the absence of almost all the information that is usually considered at such a hearing.
He read through police and medical reports which told him that the mystery man’s remains were found on May 1, 2018, by a forestry worker checking tree safety in a beech copse at the edge of the estate near Two Mile Lodge, alongside the A419 road between Cirencester and Stroud.
“As he looked down a bank of about a 12 foot drop the decomposing body or skelteton,” said the coroner. “He called the police. The body was lying with the feet pointing towards the road. The body was very decomposed. He could see what appeared to be clothing on the body and a rucksack.”
The coroner said he had received a number of statements from the police over the last two and a half years as the investigation proceeded. The latest was from Detective Inspector Alistair Hammett on November 29 this year.
“There were no signs of skeletal trauma and the clothing was intact,” said the coroner. “The body was partly covered by leaves and was lying on his back. There was no blood seen on the clothing.
“It is not known how he got there but the nature of the area and the items the man was carrying suggest he was on a journey and had walked to his final resting place. ”
The coroner said it was a remote part of the estate, rarely, if ever, visited by forestry workers, and it would not be easy for a vehicle to have dropped the man nearby because there were no pulling in places on that winding stretch of road.
Insp Hammett considered the location to be a ‘very unlikely homicide site’ because of the lack of vehicle access, the coroner said.
The inquest heard that the remains had been examined by anthropologist Dr Lucina Hackman and she found no signs of trauma. DNA was taken from a bone but no match was found in any British missing persons or police databases.
Interpol was circulated with the DNA profile but no matches had been found there either, said the coroner.
Dr Hackman concluded that the man was of Caucasian ancestry and likely to be aged between 33-55. He would have been between five feet five and five feet eight inches tall.
Most of his bones were present at the scene and the few that were missing had probably been taken by scavenging animals, she said.
“At some stage this man had been involved in physical activity but the extent of that cannot be determined,” she added. “The indications are that he died sometime in the latter part of 2017 or the early part of 2018. ”
The coroner went through the clothes and personal possessions found – shoes, socks, jackets, trousers, a Karrimor rucksack, transistor radio and a wind-up torch. A water bottle found at the scene had the dead man’s DNA on it.
Mr Wooderson said a dental expert examined the dead man’s teeth which were healthy and well looked after and he concluded that the deceased would have been about 30 years old.
One clue which police hoped might be helpful was a plastic ‘hospital patient property bag’ that was found with the body, the coroner said.
But checks with the British Polythene Industry found that such bags are supplied to the entire NHS and are widely available.
The coroner said that Facelab experts used the dead man’s skull to produce an image of what he would have looked like and that was issued to the media in early 2019, leading to 74 calls from the public suggesting who he might have been.
“Enquiries have eliminated 54 of those suggested people. Of the remaining 20, insufficient evidence has been provided to enable any further investigations into ten of them. Enquiries about the remaining ten are still being continued at this time.
“Inspector Hammett says further consideration is being given to obtaining a YSTR (chromosome) profile which could help establish the ancestry and origin of the deceased.
“Unfortunately, for my purposes as a coroner, that is the totality of the evidence that I have. The police have been most thorough in their investigations but despite their exhaustive enquiries and the efforts of other professionals, many, many questions remain.
“I am afraid I shall have to record the name of the deceased as unknown. The medical cause of death: all that can be recorded is ‘skeletal remains.’
The coroner then recorded a narrative conclusion to the inquest, saying “On May 1, 2018, the skeletal remains of a deceased male were found on a private estate. Despite considerable research, police have been unable to obtain any information as to who the deceased was or how he died. There were no signs of trauma on the skeleton.
“That concludes a most unusual inquest.”