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Chancellor refuses request to search grave where 'Brady hid bag'

04 December 2015


Mourning her son: Winnie Johnson lights a candle at a memorial service for her son, Keith Bennett, in 2010

Mourning her son: Winnie Johnson lights a candle at a memorial service for her son, Keith Bennett, in 2010

THE Chancellor of the diocese of Manchester refused to grant a faculty for the excavation of a grave in the churchyard of St James’s, Gorton, in Manchester, where it was believed that the Moors murderer, Ian Brady, may have buried a hessian bag.

The petition for the faculty was brought by the Team Rector, the Revd John Faraday, and two churchwardens in response to a request by a group investigating the murders of children in the 1960s by Brady and Myra Hindley; and, in particular, the disappearance of one of the victims, Keith Bennett.

The PCC had been informed of the request, and unanimously voted to support the petition. A public notice was displayed of the proposed excavation, which would be super- vised by a fully qualified archaeologist and would be attended by the minister and churchwardens. There were no objections from the public.

Erica Gregory, who was part of the group investigating the murders, stated that Brady was seen burying a hessian sack in ’63 or ’64 in the grave of Martha Bowring. Mrs Gregory said that the incident had been reported to the church at the time, but no action had been taken.

She referred to an article in the Mirror Online, in 2011, about a witness who said that in ’63, when aged 14, she had seen two people carrying a hessian bag through the churchyard, stop near a grave, and bury the bag. She said that she had talked to the then priest, "but he just listened and walked away".

Brady and Hindley were convicted of the murders of Edward Evans and Lesley Ann Downey, and Brady was also convicted of the murder of John Kilbride. Subsequently, both confessed to the murder of Keith Bennett and Pauline Reade. Keith’s body has never been found.

The Chancellor, the Worshipful Geoffrey Tattersall QC, said that, although it was more than 50 years since the murders had been committed, it was highly desirable that Keith’s body should, if possible, be found. The Chancellor said, however, that he had been anxious to establish what purpose would be served by the proposed excavation, and by the finding of a hessian bag. The explanation that the hessian bag might be linked to Brady would not justify the granting of a faculty.

Even if a hessian bag had been buried in or about the grave of Martha Bowring, there was no means of knowing whether it was still there 50 years later, and what significance the finding of a hessian bag could have. It would be just another finding of no significance, the Chancellor said.

The Chancellor said that he was also influenced by the fact that the Greater Manchester Police had declined to support the application for the faculty, or to comment on it. If the police thought that that the application might produce evidence that would be material to the murders, there was no doubt that they would have supported it.

Given that the police would undoubtedly have been informed of all the matters raised and relied on by Mrs Gregory, the unwillingness of the police to support the application, where the work would be undertaken by others without any costs or resource implications for the police, was an important factor to be taken into account.

On the facts of this case, the Chancellor said that he was driven to conclude that the matters raised by Mrs Gregory did not justify the excavation of the topsoil, albeit only to a maximum depth of 12 inches, in the area surrounding and including the grave of Martha Bowring. The position might have been different, the Chancellor said, if the request had been received from the police.

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