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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Sister welcomes search at quarry
Digging begins at the quarry
Digging has begun at the disused quarry
The sister of a woman who went missing with her son 28 years ago has welcomed moves to search the disused quarry where it is thought they may be buried.

Renee MacRae and three-year-old Andrew were last seen in November 1976. Her car was found south of Inverness.

Police have reopened their inquiry into the disappearance and digging began at Dalmagarry Quarry on Monday.

Her sister Morag Govans said: "I am hopeful they can find Renee and Andrew and we can give them a proper burial."

The disappearance of the MacRaes resulted in one of Scotland's largest missing persons inquiries.

Mrs MacRae, a mother-of-two, was seen driving out of Inverness with her son in her BMW on the afternoon of 12 November, 1976.

Later that night the vehicle was found burned out in a lay-by on the A9 near Tomatin, 12 miles south of the city. Mother and son have not been seen since.

John Hunter
We will have to take this quarry out bit by bit, from top to bottom - we are looking for at least one body
Professor John Hunter
Forensic archaeologist
At the time of the original investigation one police officer reported smelling decomposing flesh in the area, which was never properly searched.

A review of the case in 1999 shed no new light on the disappearance.

Last month a further review was presented to Northern Constabulary Chief Constable Iain Latimer, who said it had given him a "specific reason" to begin a detailed excavation and examination of the quarry.

Over the last two weeks trees have been cleared from the site.

Renee MacRae
Renee MacRae and her son went missing in 1976
Forensic experts, Professor Sue Black from Dundee University, and Professor John Hunter, of Birmingham University, visited the site on Monday to supervise the removal of topsoil.

Prof Hunter has experience as a war crimes investigator in Kosovo.

He said: "We will have to take this quarry out bit by bit, from top to bottom. We are looking for at least one body.

"We are working on the basis that the bodies are nearer the bottom than nearer the top.

"There are 20 tons of infill on this site and until a couple of weeks ago there were trees on top. We have to now find the edges of the quarry and then take out the infill."

Prof Black said: "Because we are possibly dealing with a three-year-old child, some of the things we are looking for will be no bigger than the end of a thumb.

Morag Govans
Morag Govans is Renee MacRae's sister
"However, if these remains are here, I'm in absolutely no doubt that we will be able to identify them, because the situation is so sufficiently characteristic.

"There is a lot of information that suggests this is a site that has to be looked at."

Detective Superintendent Gordon Urquhart, who is leading the police investigation, said: "Our objectives are firstly to recover the remains and settle that side of it for the families.

"Thereafter hopefully we will find evidence to close the gap that we need to take the case to court."

A more detailed search will be conducted later once the initial earthmoving has been completed.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"It used to be a quarry now it's a potential crime scene"



SEE ALSO:
Quarry search for woman and child
09 Aug 04  |  Scotland
Experts pore over 'Renee' quarry
02 Jun 04  |  Scotland
New claim to police on A9 mystery
18 Feb 04  |  Scotland


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