Absence of custody records mean family may never know what happened to Michael Walsh

The body of Michael Walsh was exhumed from Fenny Stratford Cemetery in March 2012
The body of Michael Walsh was exhumed from Fenny Stratford Cemetery in March 2012

THE family of a man whose body was exhumed from a Fenny Stratford cemetery 25 years after he was found in the River Great Ouse fear they may never find out how and why he died.

At a full inquest into the death of Michael John Walsh held on Tuesday, Detective Sergeant Craig Curby from the Major Crimes Unit testified that potentially vital documents, including custody records from the day Mr Walsh went missing, cannot be found.

That meant Coroner Tom Osborne felt that he could only record an open verdict.

It is unclear whether the documents were destroyed or have simply gone missing.

Mr Walsh, who would have been 54, was found by workmen Peter Shine and Chris Snelus in the River Great Ouse in December 1986.

At the time Thames Valley Police had been unable to identify his remains. The original inquest into the unidentified body – held on May 13, 1987 – recorded an open verdict with the cause of death unascertainable.

Earlier this year the remains of Mr Walsh were exhumed from a grave in Fenny Stratford and a Home Office pathologist carried out extensive DNA testing to determine the identity.

Tuesday’s inquest heard how Mr Walsh had been arrested for a breach of the peace on Christmas Eve 1985. He was released on Christmas Day but re-arrested for criminal damage of a police cell and bailed until January 9, 1986.

On January 21 of that year he was reported missing by his sister and his remains were found on December 5, 1986.

Ahead of the inquest into Mr Walsh’s death, his twin brother Frank had requested access to the custody records relating to the two arrests.

But he was told by police liaison officer Phil Wenman that the records had been destroyed.

When Milton Keynes Citizen requested information from TVP relating to how long the Force holds on to custody records and cold case files we were told: ‘Custody records are kept for six years and anything older would have been destroyed in line with the spirit and principle of the Data Protection Act.

‘In relation to the question about cold case files if it is a serious offence, ie... murder, we keep undetected cases open for 100 years. In the case of less serious offences they are kept open for a period depending on the seriousness of the offence, however in the 1980’s there was a different regime and less serious offences were not kept beyond three or four years.

‘In the case of an unidentified body a file would have been prepared for the Coroner who we believe would keep this.’

During the inquest, Detective Sergeant Craig Curby from the Major Crimes Unit said police were as frustrated as the family over the missing documents.

He told Mr Osborne: “We share that frustration as to what happened in 1985.

“We had a second post-mortem, the results of which support the initial post-mortem. Given the nature of the examination they are unable to provide any information about the cause of death.

“We are still trying to find further information... (but we have) still not located any additional paperwork.”

But he also revealed that police have not even been able to track down documents which would have outlined the policy of the Force in Milton Keynes with relation to retention of documents at that time.

He told the inquest that enquiries have been made regarding the retention policy relating to documents in the 1980s, and added that different stations would have had their own policies at that time.

Information relating to the policy in Milton Keynes could not be found, he said.

He added that a search of the National Police Computer was ongoing, but that without crime reference numbers it was proving difficult.

Despite the absence of the custody records from December 1985, documents from 1987 and 1988 relating to the discovery of Michael Walsh’s body have been recovered.

This suggests not all documents from the 1980s were destroyed.

Frank Walsh also told the Citizen he had asked for the custody records in the 1980’s, but had been denied access at that time.

He said: “As a family we want to know what happened to Michael in his final moments.

“These records would have been vital in helping us piece together the last day of his life.”

During the inquest Michael Walsh’s nephew Derval Walsh called for a ‘comprehensive investigation,’ but Mr Osborne said he did not have the jurisdiction to call one.

DS Curby pledged to continue the police search for the missing documents.