The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has revealed they retained body parts and tissue samples in 64 cases of suspicious and unexplained deaths, without notifying the victim’s families.
A UK wide audit of all police forces revealed that body parts including skulls and organs had been retained by police in Northern Ireland from 1960 until 2005. Some 23 of the cases related to the Troubles. Up until 2006, the retention of body tissue was allowed.
Officials said the samples were retained as part of their investigations. They are now advising families affected by the retentions what their options are.
Speaking at the House of Commons, British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday he was “extremely sorry that this report has been leaked,” adding that it was a “time of huge anguish” for families.
Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said that while the PSNI had acted within the law, families of the victims should have been informed.
"We offer an apology for the upset we are causing to families," he said.
"The problem has been that there was no review mechanism in place, there was no monitoring or audit so that decisions could be made... about how we would handle those pieces of human tissue, once the criminal justice element had been fulfilled.
"We acted within the law, but that's not to say families were treated properly. In fact, families didn't even know in many instances."
"Since 2006 we have a high degree of confidence that we have been compliant with the requirements of the codes of practice of the Human Tissue Act."
Speaking about the recent audit a PSNI spokesperson said: "In 2010 the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) issued a direction asking all mortuaries holding post mortem tissue samples to undertake an audit and report back to them.
"In order to identify a national picture, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) advised all Chief Constables in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to conduct an audit of all human tissue held in connection with suspicious deaths and murders.
"The Police Service of Northern Ireland has a dedicated team committed to this.
"The audit has enabled PSNI to identify and consider the most appropriate way of sensitively dealing with human tissue no longer required to be held for criminal investigations."
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly described the news as "a shocking revelation".
"It is now important that proper support mechanisms are put in place for the families involved and a proper public explanation for this practice is put forward and assurances given that it will not happen again," he told the BBC.
Watch the UTV report below:
Watch the daughter of one of the victims give her reaction to UTV News: