Mum’s horror after finding out her son’s body parts were stored for 23 years

John Culshaw
John Culshaw
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A mum says she is devastated after being told parts of her son’s body had been kept in storage for 23 years.

Great-grandmother Jennifer Shaw, 72, will hold a second funeral this week for her son John Culshaw, who died from a fatal knife wound during an incident with a woman at his home in Scholes, Wigan, in October 1993.

Jennifer Shaw

Jennifer Shaw

Mrs Shaw, who has since remarried, has been told that parts of Mr Culshaw’s body were retained after two post-mortem examinations were carried out and have been found at a forensic laboratory in Birmingham, which is being closed.

And more than 200 other people could be affected by the harrowing discoveries.

Mrs Shaw, who lives in Hindley, said: “I’m devastated. I don’t feel like I have put him to rest. I feel like I have buried a shell. It has brought everything back.”

Mr Culshaw was just 26 when he was found dead at his home in Scholes and he was buried at Westwood Cemetery in Ince.

Nobody ever told us that we weren’t burying our full son

Jennifer Shaw

A woman appeared in court following his death charged with his murder but she was eventually found not guilty of both murder and manslaughter after a trial.

Mrs Shaw has spent more than 23 years grieving for her son.

And it was a shock when she received a letter from the police when she returned home from a holiday in December asking her to contact them. She was told Mr Culshaw’s stomach, liver and other body parts had been found in the laboratory, but a bag of his fingernails and toenails had been lost.

Mrs Shaw said: “Apparently the police didn’t know they were there.”

A police officer went to see Mrs Shaw and apologised, but she was asked not to make the discovery public so the police had time to speak to the other families.

Mrs Shaw, who has four children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, said: “Nobody ever told us that we weren’t burying our full son. I feel like I have let him down.”

When police pushed a letter through Jennifer Shaw’s door, she had no idea of the harrowing news that was about to be disclosed.

A police officer revealed their heartbreaking find, apologised for the distress it would cause but asked the family not to make the discovery public so the police had time to speak to the other families.

Mrs Shaw, who has four children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, said: “Nobody ever told us that we weren’t burying our full son.

“I know they keep samples, but nobody ever said to us that parts were being kept.

“It’s just come out of the blue. The only answer I can get is somebody has messed up.

“When the Alder Hey baby scandal came about, my daughter rang the police and she wrote to somewhere and was told that there was definitely nothing kept of John.”

Mr Culshaw’s remains are now being returned to his family and will be buried on Thursday.

They will be put in a casket and placed in his grave at Westwood Cemetery, where a service will be held.

Mrs Shaw said: “I just want to put my son to rest.”

She wants to find out how this happened and would like to know what the other families affected think about it.

“I would like to know why they didn’t tell us and why they didn’t tell us 10 years ago when Alder Hey happened,” she said.

“I would like to know why they didn’t know. They are saying they didn’t know but they should have known.

“That was my son. I feel like I have let him down.”

Her daughter has asked for reports from the post-mortem examinations to find out more.

In a lengthy statement issued to the Observer, GMP’s Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Ford said: “Following a review of human tissue samples held by the former Forensic Science Service in 2014, GMP was informed it held a number that related to its own investigations.

“Once we knew about the samples we felt that such a sensitive issue was never going to be solely about following the regulations or the letter of the law.

“For this reason we consulted with a number of relevant people, including community and faith groups, as well as our own Ethics Committee.

“Following this extensive consultation it was agreed we had an ethical and moral duty to inform the next-of-kin in the vast majority of cases.

“Since then, a team of detectives has been working to categorise the samples and to ensure everything possible has been done to locate the families.

“In September 2016 we started the long process of going to visit families relating to the 180 samples deemed to be appropriate for a visit.

“Each family is being told about the sample held that was taken from their loved one and how they were taken for investigative reasons.

“They have also been told there could be some samples that, for various reasons, remain unaccounted for.

“Finally, they have been given a range of options for sensitive disposal of the samples, all of which GMP will pay for.

“This is a deeply sensitive and private matter for the families affected and the decision to contact them was not taken lightly, in fact it was a decision that we agonised over for a number of months with a number of independent advisory groups, partner agencies and other professionals.

“In this case we have been to visit John Culshaw’s family twice and had several open and honest conversations with them. Every family we visited has reacted differently to this difficult conversation and in this case they were clearly upset by the news. As with all cases we have offered them specialist support and will continue to do so.

“We have now spoken to dozens of families and in many cases they have thanked us for the personal visit but we accept that everyone reacts differently.”