AN investigation has been launched into claims a local man came across HUMAN BONES in a Cookstown graveyard.
Robin Abbott says he found the fragments, along with what looks like a coffin handle, lying in a “mound of soil” at the bottom of Old Derryloran Graveyard.
Mr Abbott, a local historian who is from the Stewartstown area, described to the MAIL how he was on an early evening stroll last Thursday with his two year-old son when he found the remains. After examining the soil, which sat close to a nearby grave, the 36 year-old retrieved 11 small fragments and placed them in a carrier bag before taking them home.
“I go into the graveyard quite a lot as I do quite a lot of research into the headstone inscriptions, which date back to the 17th Century. It was a sunny evening and I had my little boy with me and walking towards the bottom of the graveyard I saw a small mound of soil and you could see something sitting on top,” the local man told the MAIL.
“When I went in for a closer look I realised what it was and after moving the soil found some more bone fragments.”
The next day Mr Abbott brought the items, which included bone, slate and a metal-handle like object, to police.
“I decided to take the remains to police because I was concerned at how they came to be there, and I didn’t want anyone else to stumble across them. It’s not something you come across everyday,” he said.
Both the PSNI and Cookstown District Council are now investigating the matter.
The remains have now been passed back into the council’s possession and plans are in place to have them formally buried, though it is not known if this will happen in the graveyard.
In a statement to the MAIL, a Cookstown District Council spokesperson said: “Council is aware of reports that a member of the public claims to have removed bone fragments from Derryloran Old Graveyard. The matter is presently under investigation.
“Council would remind visitors to our burial grounds that those removing bone fragments may be committing an offence.”
Last year Road Service began work on a bridge-widening project close at the graveyard, due to finish later this year. It had involved exhuming remains of those buried close to Derryloran bridge to allow construction work to take place. The exhumation were oversaw by an archaeologist, an undertaker and a team from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Remains that were exhumed at the time were given a church service and a formal burial.
Mr Abbott says he is concerned that the fragments found may be connected to the removal of the remains.
A DRD Roads Service spokesperson told the MAIL all work carried out at the graveyard has been done so in an “appropriate manner”.
The spokesperson added that Road Service would be assisting the PSNI in its investigation into the matter.
“Roads Service carried all work at Derryloran Bridge in an appropriate manner in consultation with the NI Environment Agency, the Council and an archaeologist. Roads Service will assist the PSNI in their investigations of this matter,” said the spokesperson.
“The project which includes constructing a retaining wall in Derryloran Graveyard, widening the road and providing footways on both sides will be completed in the Autumn. Currently the carriageway is narrow and there is only one very narrow footway at this busy section of the Drum Road.”
A PSNI spokesperson confirmed yesterday they had been contacted on the matter,
The spokesperson said: “Police can confirm that a report was made on Friday 25 May of an excavation not being carried out properly in the Cookstown area.
“Investigations were carried out and no offences were found.”