Unidentified bodies, Cockley Cley and the people trying to give the unnamed dead a name

I couldn’t believe there were more than 1,000 people in the UK who were dead, unnamed and with nobody to mourn them.

In this age of social media where we know what a celebrity has for breakfast, where all our movements in public are apparently covered by CCTV, how is it possible that something as significant as the death of somebody could pass so anonymously?

At first I was concerned my suggestion of investigating how this might be so might fall on deaf ears, dismissed as overly macabre. It didn’t. My colleagues and superiors at the BBC embraced the idea. More importantly, the Great British public found the situation as appalling as I did.

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

My online work on this was viewed by more than 1million people, while my radio efforts were listened to on radio stations across the country and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and our Inside Out film, much of which I had the opportunity to film and direct myself, reached a far higher audience than usual. And there was a short film called “How do you reconstruct a Human Head?” which was well received, despite (or perhaps because of?) its unusual title.

And the story was taken up by others in the days that followed, including the regional and national press and other broadcasters including ITV and SKY. Such things don’t matter to me in terms of ego, they do matter to me in terms of a subject’s importance reaching as wide an audience as possible.

One of the cases we looked at was that of an unidentified woman, whose decapitated body was found bound and covered in a dustsheet off a rural path in Cockley Cley, Norfolk 41 years ago.

Cockley Cley is a beautiful, though other-worldly, place. I wanted to spend some time in the area off the beaten track before meeting the detective trying to solve the case. These are some of the pictures I took that day.

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

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