Tyne & Wear

Father's exhumation 'could clear son' of Tyneside rapes

Eric McKenna Image copyright Northumbria Police
Image caption Eric McKenna was linked to the crimes after he was arrested following a dispute with his neighbour

The body of the father of a man who is serving a 23-year sentence for two rapes is to be exhumed in a bid to prove the son's innocence.

Eric McKenna was jailed last March for raping two women in Newcastle and Gateshead in the 1980s.

The 60-year-old's DNA was linked to the crimes after he was cautioned for urinating on a neighbour's plant pot.

His family says Thomas McKenna was the rapist and has won permission for the exhumation from the Church of England.

Eric McKenna's wife Moira petitioned the CofE to allow the exhumation to take place. Her husband has always denied he carried out the street attacks.

His father Thomas McKenna, who died in 1993, is buried in St John's cemetery in the Elswick area of Newcastle.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The CofE accepts that digging up the body could "help settle this matter once and for all"

A spokesman for the Diocese of Newcastle said: "The Church of England will only grant permission to exhume a person's remains from consecrated ground in exceptional circumstances.

"Recent cases considered by the Consistory Court have laid out principles that each chancellor should follow when considering an application for exhumation.

"Our chancellor Euan Duff has followed these principles when considering this case, although he has been very clear that granting permission in no way supports the accusation being made against the deceased.

"It is recognition that the DNA analysis may help settle this matter once and for all."

Following the conviction last year, Det Con Mick Wilson of Northumbria Police said: "McKenna thought he had got away with his crimes, but a neighbourly dispute and a moment of stupidity has landed him in prison for 23 years."

After the case, the Crown Prosecution Service said the chance of Eric McKenna not being the source of DNA samples recovered at the two rape scenes was one in one billion.

'Potential perpetrators'

Dr Eva Fernandez-Dominguez, associate professor in ancient DNA at Durham University and former lecturer in forensic anthropology at Liverpool John Moores University, said DNA sampling techniques had changed significantly since the 1980s.

"It is technically possible to extract DNA from bones," she said.

"In this particular case, the information of the father may or may not be crucial depending on the type of DNA analysis performed over the sample collected at the crime scene.

"If only Y chromosome information was recovered, then potentially both father or son could have been the perpetrators, as Y chromosome is identical among male relatives of the same family.

"If other chromosomal information was recovered and a positive complete match between the son and the DNA from the crime scene was found, then it would be highly unlikely that the father could have been the perpetrator, as fathers and sons only share 50% of this type of DNA, the other half coming from the mother.

"It is a case of what type of genetic information was used."

Any removal of DNA from exhumed remains must be done so under rules laid down by the Human Tissue Authority.

A spokesman said: "DNA is not considered 'relevant material' under the Human Tissue Act, although the material from which it originates is considered so.

"So any removal of tissue from the deceased needs to take place on licensed premises such as a mortuary.

"In the case of a deceased person, anyone in a qualifying relationship to the deceased can give consent for DNA testing."

Once any DNA is recovered from the remains, police could then investigate if any new evidence emerges.

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