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Students hunt for clues to help investigate cold cases

The Abertay University students will help investigate nearly 30 missing person cases.

Investigation: Psychology student Sarah Webb will lead the probe.
Investigation: Psychology student Sarah Webb will lead the probe.

Students will trawl through newspaper cuttings from the past 47 years in the hope of finding clues to help police investigate cold cases.

Students from Abertay University in Dundee will read through press articles as part of a live Police Scotland investigation into nearly 30 missing person cases across the country.

More than 20 psychology, criminology and forensic science students will focus on Scottish newspaper cuttings relating to cases of unidentified bodies and body parts, which have never been matched to a missing person or victim.

It is hoped the project will highlight possible links for further investigation, potentially leading to forensic tests which technological advances have recently made possible.

'Dr Woolnough's department at Abertay has been a key partner in missing person research for more than 10 years and this project draws on proven expertise in the field.'
Chief inspector Lex Baillie

Dr Penny Woolnough, senior lecturer in forensic psychology and associate director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, who is leading the project, said: "This is a fantastic operation for our students to be involved in, not only because it gives them industry experience but there's also a real chance they may turn up some useful information.

"People go missing for a whole range of reasons, including mental health issues, family or financial problems and even foul play, so there are a huge number of angles for the team to look at."

The students will look at articles dating back to 1971 which mention remains found in city, town and rural locations, as well as at sea.

The case information provided by Police Scotland does not take in all current cases of unidentified remains, but focuses on those where this type of archive work can be useful.

Chief inspector Lex Baillie said: "Dr Woolnough's department at Abertay has been a key partner in missing person research for more than 10 years and this project draws on proven expertise in the field.

"It also demonstrates the commitment of Police Scotland to missing person investigations and bring resolution to families and friends of those who are still missing - we do not close a case until each person is accounted for, no matter how long that takes."

The research team, a mix of undergraduate and masters students, has been given until August 31 to complete the task.

Psychology student Sarah Webb, who is co-organising the trawl, said: "As soon as I heard about the opportunity to assist Police Scotland in finding missing loved ones I felt compelled to help with this investigation.

"I hope that the work we are conducting ends up providing some closure to families or at least reassurance that even after 47 years people do care and are still looking."

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