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Detective was 'like a dog with a bone' in tracking down identity of Stratford drowned man

PUBLISHED: 16:06 18 December 2015 | UPDATED: 19:41 21 December 2015

DS Gerard Healy who successfully identified the body of a man drowned in Stratford six years ago.

DS Gerard Healy who successfully identified the body of a man drowned in Stratford six years ago.

Archant

A tireless detective and a scientific breakthrough were crucial to identifying the body of a man found drowned in a river six years ago this month.

An artist's sketch of Kevin Holehan, who has finally been identified after drowning in Stratford six years ago. Picture: MPSAn artist's sketch of Kevin Holehan, who has finally been identified after drowning in Stratford six years ago. Picture: MPS

Driving force behind the investigation Det Sgt Gerard Healy said he was “like the proverbial dog with a bone” as he took on the case to identity the unknown man personally, even after transferring away from the Met’s Missing Persons Unit.

He had his work cut out for him as the man, now known to be Kevin Holehan of Borough Road, Southwark, was discovered in the Three Mills Wall River, Stratford, on December 12, 2009, with only the clothes on his back.

“There was nothing to explain why he was there,” said Det Sgt Healy. “He was described as a fit young man who worked physically hard. No trauma, nothing at all on his person to say who he was.

“It was just one of those ones. According to the post mortem he had only been in the river for a matter of hours [when found].”

Det Sgt Healy said he was Det Sgt Healy said he was "delighted" to solve the case before retiring next year

The Irish detective, now based at Plaistow, would go on to contact Australia and run through a complete list of the thousands of employees working at the then under-construction Olympic park in tracking down potential leads. But all proved fruitless.

“I sometimes wondered ‘what the heck are you doing?’,” said Det Sgt Healy, 56. “I just didn’t want him buried without exhausting all avenues that were open to me. It happened on my watch.

“On a personal level I had to balance it between doing some good police work and it becoming an obsession. I wouldn’t say it became an obsession but I became like the proverbial dog with a bone.”

It would later turn out that Mr Holehan, who died aged 48, was originally from Leeds, West Yorkshire, and had become estranged from his family.

A photograph of the tshirt worn by Mr Holehan on the day of his death. Picture: MPSA photograph of the tshirt worn by Mr Holehan on the day of his death. Picture: MPS

A breakthrough came after appeals in the media, including this newspaper, led to a police officer in south London contacting the detective about a missing person from his area after a woman had grown concerned about her neighbour.

Contact with the man’s family last year resulted in DNA to test against the body, but the results were not accurate enough to convince coroners of their kinship and so the case remained unsolved.

Only in June were forensic detectives able to use an advancement in technology that enabled more accurate DNA profiling to prove the match, finally bringing the case to a close and confirming the body was indeed that of Mr Holehan.

“It was just unbelievable,” said Det Sgt Healy. “A bit like the Rubik’s Cube that you’ve been trying to unravel for so many years – suddenly it just all fell into place and I got the results I wanted.”

“I’m just over the moon. It’s the last major enquiry I have before retiring in March next year and I can close the book on it now. I can sign off and say that there’s nothing left that I have to complete and I’m just delighted really.”

Mr Holehan’s remains have been returned to his family. An inquest into his death will open on January 6 at Walthamstow Coroners’ Court.

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