29 April 2021

New DNA centres provide fresh hope for some families missing loved ones

| Kim Treasure
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Ray Speechley before he went missing in 2016

Ray Speechley before he went missing in 2016. Photo: NSW Police.

The wife of missing Dalmeny man Ray Speechley has welcomed the announcement of new familial DNA collection centres on the South Coast even though she knows it will do nothing to bring her beloved husband home.

Ray went missing from an aged care facility at about 4 pm on 7 July, 2016. Extensive searches, a coronial inquest and a Facebook campaign have failed to find any trace of him.

“I would love to find him and bring him home to his family,” Jan Speechley said.

“I loved him dearly … I worshipped the ground he walked on and he did mine.”

READ ALSO Police to renew search for missing Dalmeny man Ray Speechley

Mrs Speechley’s heartbreak is mirrored by thousands of other families across the state. On average 28 people go missing every day in NSW and most are located almost immediately, however about one per cent go on to become long-term missing persons.

In a bid to find answers for at least some of these families, the NSW Police Force has established a Missing Persons Registry (MPR) and implemented new systems and procedures which came into effect in July 2019.

Since that time, the MPR has undertaken a review of all 769 long-term missing persons cases in NSW and identified a lack of Direct or Familial DNA profiles for a significant number of historical investigations.

In February this year, MPR investigators launched a pilot program on the state’s Mid North Coast to gather DNA samples from biological relatives of missing people across Australia.

Two pop-up centres were established at Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie to capture samples and other data required for upload to the National Missing Persons Victim System database.

Missing Persons Registry Commander Detective Inspector Glen Browne said more than 50 family members of missing people came forward to provide DNA samples to police on the Mid North Coast. Now police are turning their attention to the South Coast.

“We know this process can be challenging for family members and our officers are grateful that so many came forward to our collection centres earlier this year,” Inspector Browne said.

“Our efforts to further missing persons investigations are continuing, and we are once again calling on relatives of any missing person across the country, who reside on or near the South Coast, to consider coming forward and providing a DNA sample.

READ ALSO The ethical hackers helping to solve missing person cases

“Familial DNA samples that are gathered during this program will be uploaded into the Volunteer Limited Purpose Index (VOLMPU), where they will be searched against the Unidentified Bodies Index.

“At the same time, interviews will be conducted with family members to capture further information that may assist investigators with ongoing inquiries,” he said.

“The team at the Missing Persons Registry are determined to identify these remains and ensure they are safely returned to loved ones so they may finally be farewelled and put to rest.”

Familial DNA samples are provided via buccal swab and are only compared against missing persons databases in Australia.

Mrs Speechley has welcomed the initiative, saying it could provide answers for many other families – just not hers.

“I think it is wonderful,” she said.

“There are so many people stacked up in that morgue and they don’t know who they are.

“If it does help someone, that would be great. For us, we are in a different situation.”

Mrs Speechley was able to retrieve Ray’s DNA from a medical procedure carried out in Canberra Hospital before his disappearance. It is already in a database and has not returned any matches.

Still, Mrs Speechley is holding out for some sort of resolution.

When a body part washed up on a beach north of Batemans Bay earlier this year, she immediately reached out to police but to no avail.

“You hold your breath, then I think at a least someone else knows where their loved one is, one day my day will come,” she said.

The DNA collection centres on the NSW South Coast will be held at the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, 14 Cabarita Place, Merimbula, between 10 am and 7 pm on Monday, 3 May 2021, and at the Batemans Bay Community Centre, 2 Museum Place, Batemans Bay, between 10 am and 7 pm on Wednesday, 5 May 2021.

Original Article published by Kim Treasure on About Regional.

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