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Romney Marsh: Inquest hears how body found by dog walker on Greatstone beach not identified a year later

By Molly Mileham-Chappell

A man who was found dead on a Kent beach has still not been identified more than a year later.

Police were called to Greatstone beach, on Romney Marsh, on the morning of Thursday, January 4 last year after the body of an unknown male was discovered by a dog walker.

At an inquest at the Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone today, assistant coroner Katrina Hepburn heard how police officers and medical experts made extensive efforts to establish how the man died and who he was.

Greatstone beach. Stock image
Greatstone beach. Stock image

Described as having ‘a good set of teeth’ in clinical reports, as a consequence, it was considered unlikely the man had been a migrant trying to cross the Channel.

DI Cara Ferguson worked on the investigation into the unknown man's death.

She told the coroner's court how the body, which was severely decomposed, was thought to have been washed up in high tide and strong weather on the shore near New Romney. He was transported to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and DNA samples were taken.

These were uploaded to the missing person and national police database in an attempt to find a match in February last year.

On Tuesday, May 22 2018, a shin bone discovered on Pett Level beach in Winchelsea, East Sussex, was found to be a match, but did not result in any further identification.

Efforts were also made in several western European countries with beaches, by corroborating the forensics with the Europol databases, but still no matches were found. The details will remain on the database and be checked periodically.

DI Ferguson noted several hypotheses were made about who the man could be, including that he may have been facilitating travel and come overboard, or the victim of an assault. But she added: “I have absolutely no idea who this gent is. I hope there will be an identification at some point through DNA. I have no other method at this moment in time.”

Archbishop’s Palace, Mill Street, Maidstone. Picture: Andy Jones
Archbishop’s Palace, Mill Street, Maidstone. Picture: Andy Jones

She noted he was ‘probably not an illegal immigrant’ because of the health of the body, including his good oral hygiene as reported by doctors.

Through forensic examinations, it was established that the man was a white European, thought to be aged between 21 and 45 and between 5 ft 11 in and 6 ft 3 in, with a ‘square jaw’ being a distinctive facial feature.

Pathology reports showed no substances were found in the liver, while no obvious tool marks were found on the man’s body to suggest dismembering, noting that his condition was likely to be due to decomposition from the length of time in the water.

The experts’ notes also stated there was ‘evidence of trauma to the larynx’, specifically a fracture on the thyroid cartilage, which protects the vocal folds. But Ms Hepburn said: “The fracture could have been pre death or post death. It’s impossible to say if it was the cause of death or not.”

The coroner recorded an open verdict.

Ms Hepburn said it was ‘with regret’ no further details surrounding the death could be established, including when it happened: "I cannot explain how this man died or, sadly, who he is.”

She added that the shin bone will be repatriated with the body, and there is the possibility of more remains being recovered.

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