One person may hold vital clues to several families’ decades-long quest to find the bodies of loved ones abducted, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA.
As forensic archaeologists surveyed remote bogland in the Irish Republic in renewed efforts to find the remains of newly-wed Brendan Megraw, who vanished in April 1978, investigators said local knowledge could be key.
The 23-year-old from west Belfast and 16 other people were abducted, killed and clandestinely buried by republicans during the Troubles - the Disappeared.
It is believed Mr Megraw’s remains were buried in a bog in Oristown, near Kells, Co Meath.
Investigators from the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) - set up by the British and Irish Governments to liaise with former paramilitaries to find the Disappeared - believe at least one person in the remote part of the county may have vital information on several cases.
Separate searches have also taken place on bogland a few miles from the Oristown site, near Wilkinstown, for Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright, both of whom were taken by the IRA in October 1972.
It is also suspected Joseph Lynskey, a former Cistercian monk taken from the Beechmount area of west Belfast in the summer of 1972, was also buried somewhere in the region.
Standing on the edge of two strips of active bog as the experts began painstakingly slow radar surveys, Jon Hill, senior investigator with the commission, reached out to local people with information on the Disappeared.
“There are people in this area, in this community, who could help. Not particular to this case, but in relation to the cases of Seamus Wright, Kevin McKee and Joe Lynskey,” he said.
“I am convinced there is at least one person, possibly more, who has material information who could contact us and could provide us with information to help us in that respect.”
About 2.5 hectares of bog will be recorded using specialist radar technology over the next eight days. It will take at least another two weeks for the data to be thoroughly analysed.
A series of strips have been marked out on two blocks of the bog to define the geophysical search area.
Rows of neatly stacked recently-cut turf marked the outer limits of one search area and tonnes of peat lying deeper into the bog formed a man-made barrier for the search site.
At least five other blocks in the active bog have been examined in three previous searches involving local gardai and the commission. The last was in 2010.
The latest sites are deeper in from the road and include areas which were cleared in years past of heather, bog birch and other plant life to allow machines on the land to strip turf for fuel.
Investigators searching for Mr Megraw’s remains first appealed for local individuals to come forward when Bishop of Meath Michael Smith said a mass at Oristown bog last September.
Mr Hill gave renewed assurances that any detail can only be used in the hunt for victims remains.
“If that comes to us it is completely sacrosanct, it’s completely confidential,” he said.
A follow-up dig on the bog will only take place if specific anomalies are identified during this week’s geophysical surveys.
Mr Megraw’s brother Kieran acknowledged it would be a “difficult day” for the family.
“There is hope but the other side of the coin is you have to hold back your emotions as well,” he said.
Mr Hill said the commission only acts on specific information but cautioned about building up the Megraw family’s hopes.
“I think to be confident of a successful resolution is a leap too far, in fact very much too far,” he said.
“The thing about this area is it has undergone a lot of reconstruction in the period since so it’s a difficult task.
“We are always hopeful otherwise we would not be here but let’s wait and see what the survey brings us.”
Mr Megraw, from Twinbrook, was looking forward to the birth of his first child and was due to start a new job on a ship when he went missing.
The IRA claimed he had confessed to being a British provocateur and Military Reaction Force undercover agent in 1978.
The ICLVR was established in 1999 after the Good Friday peace agreement and is acknowledged as a world leader in the search and recovery of human remains from bogland.
The remains of 10 of the Disappeared have been recovered.