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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 22:26 GMT
Foetus found in hospital van
Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, Belfast
Foetus was discovered last September at Ulster Hospital
The Northern Ireland health minister has said she has been "greatly disturbed" to hear that a foetus was found in a van of a mortuary technician.

The Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, near Belfast suspended the man and started an inquiry following the discovery last September.

The foetus of a baby about 15 weeks old, was found after a member of the public contacted the police in Dunmurry.

It is understood the mortuary technician, who has worked in the hospital for 20 years, said he believed he had done nothing wrong.

He said the incident happened after he had been sick and off work and that he believed he would be re-instated in his job.

Report ordered

Health minister Bairbre de Brun said it was "completely unacceptable that a foetus should be treated other than with the greatest of dignity and respect".

Bairbre de Brun is asking why was foetus
Bairbre de Brun: "Why was foetus loss not picked up by admin systems?"
"The recent incident falls far short of that standard, and clearly demands urgent answers," she said.

The minister said she had asked for a full report on the circumstances surrounding this incident.

"This should cover the facts behind the incident itself and explain how the apparent loss of a foetus for a period was not picked up by hospital administrative systems.

"I will also expect the report to detail what steps have been put in place to ensure that such an incident could not recur."

'Most unusual case'

The state pathology department and Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital are co-operating in the investigation into the incident and DNA tests have been carried out on the foetus.

An RUC spokeswoman said: "Hospital authorities have made, and continue to make, intensive inquiries to identify the origin of the foetus and the parents.

"It has not been established if a crime has been committed."

In a statement, the Ulster Community Hospital Trust said it was deeply disturbed by the incident and was working with the Royal to ensure it could not happen again.

Professor Peter Toner, a pathologist at the Royal group of hospitals, told BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme that parents should not be alarmed by the incident.

He said it was a "most unusual case" and that he had never encountered anything like it.

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