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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 12:06 GMT
Body identified as missing priest
Stretch of the river Severn
The priest's van was found near the river Severn
A body found in the River Severn in three months ago has been confirmed as that of a missing Catholic priest from west Wales who was at the centre of a child abuse inquiry.

Father William Welsford, 69 - who had been living in Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire since retiring - went missing more than three months ago.

Father William Welsford
Father William Welsford: Missing
His Ford Transit caravanette was found abandoned at the River Severn near Gloucester, in December.

Police have confirmed that Welsford was under investigation by police for allegations of child abuse and was on police bail.

The body was so badly disfigured from being in the water that conventional identification methods proved impractical.

Instead, dental records and fingerprints had to be examined.

A search of the river for Mr Welsford was held up by severe flooding last year.

Police had to wait for the swollen river to recede before searching the area close to where the caravanette was abandoned.

Allegations

Mr Welsford - who was also known by his Franciscan name, Father Bonaventure - had been interviewed in connection with the Operation Cleopatra investigation by police and social services into abuse at children's homes in the Manchester area.

In particular, he had been questioned about allegations about events dating from the mid-1970s at the All Saints Home in Barton, Trafford.

Gloucester Police confirmed that the body had been in the water "for some time" and that there appeared to be no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.

Father Welsford - who had retired from his post in mid Wales two months ago due to ill health - had been released on bail and had been due to report to Milford Haven Police Station in the new year.

Franciscan

But he had not been seen since 2 December. Police were alerted two weeks later, when he failed to turn up on a pre-arranged holiday to Dublin.

Provost David Bottrill, the vicar general of Menevia in south Wales, said Mr Welsford initially joined the Franciscan Order in south Wales in the 1960s before moving to the secular priesthood.

He was with the Diocese of Menevia for around three years.

He later moved to Carmarthen and then to Presteigne, in Powys, where he worked for eight years before retiring last autumn.

Since then, he had been living with friends in Milford Haven.

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29 Dec 00 | Wales
No identity yet for river body
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