ONE of the biggest manhunts in the history of Sussex Police is underway, as detectives swoop on Bosham for a ‘mass DNA screening’, appealing for 5,000 men on their radar to come forward.
They are not giving up on their search for the killer who brutally murdered Valerie Graves, 55, while she house sat for friends in Smugglers Lane on December 30, 2013.
Some 5,000 men who live or work in, or have visited the village in the last year are being asked to provide a DNA sample to rule them out of the inquiry.
Sussex Police Chief Constable Giles York said the ‘tragic murder’ is one of the most complex investigations Sussex Police has ever undertaken.
Police are convinced the murderer ‘has a link’ to the area, and have interviewed more than 9,500 people and offered a £20,000 reward to catch the killer. Last year police obtained a partial DNA profile of the suspect, but officers said it is ‘not compatible’ with the DNA database.
‘The biggest inquiry in Surrey and Sussex’
District commander Chief Inspector Justin Burtenshaw said: “This is the biggest DNA screening ever done in Sussex, and possibly in the country. We hope to screen approximately 5,000 males live, work or stayed in Bosham over the last year. Anyone who doesn’t come down - it gives us another focus to go and see them and find out why they don’t want to. This is still the biggest inquiry in Surrey and Sussex.”
Some 65 people went along to the Millstream Hotel before the screening process had even been set up.
Ch Insp Burtenshaw said this was not ‘a desperate measure by police’, but a ‘more effective way’ of gaining DNA samples. “It would take months to go house to house. Because of the brutality of this crime and the location it is not something we can solve in a day.”
Detective Superintendent Nick May of Surrey and Sussex major crime team said: “Since the murder, officers have interviewed more than 9,500 people, of whom 8,000 of these were during the house-to-house enquiries and taken 580 statements as part of the investigation.
“We announced in November that forensic scientists had obtained a limited DNA profile for the suspect, which meant we can start requesting voluntary DNA samples to eliminate males from the investigation who live or work in the Bosham area, either permanently or as migrant workers.
“This was a significant breakthrough for the investigation. Although this profile is not suitable for a search on the National DNA Database it does indicate the suspect is male.”
Chichester district councillor for Bosham, Myles Cullen said: “The police have put in an unprecedented and wonderful effort on behalf of the community. It’s uncertainty that causes concern and we are trying to diminish that uncertainty.”
One villager who went to the screening said: “This mystery is still unsolved. We want to help in any way we can. Nobody really talks about it anymore but this occasion is going to bring it to the forefront again.”
Manager at the Millstream Hotel, Clare Sherlock, said staff wanted to assist the police in any way they could, adding: “Customers are very understanding and know we want to help.”
The family of Valerie Graves made an appeal late last year around the anniversary of her murder for people to come forward to give their DNA. Valerie’s sister’s partner Nigel Acres said: “We would ask anyone who is eligible to attend one of the screening sessions and give their DNA. “This is a difficult case and we know the police are doing all they can to solve it. The DNA screening is an important part of the investigation. Please help.”
Around 20 members of the crime team will be around the area over the next four weeks, with more officers working from a mobile screening unit. Men aged over 17 will be asked to take identification and provide a DNA mouth swab and thumbprint to eliminate them from the inquiry.
The drop-in sessions are at the Millstream Hotel between January 21 and 29, February 2 and 7, and February 10 and 15.
Police are reassuring people they will not retain samples for future use.
Detective Constable Steve Taylor from the Surrey and Sussex major crime team explained the procedure of the DNA screening. “Those who attend have been asked to bring along photo identification, a passport or the photo driving licence. An officer will fill out some details, check their identification and take a photo of them.
“Their thumbprint will be taken and a swab will be taken from inside their mouth. The process is painless and should take no longer than 10 minutes.
“It is important for the public to understand that we will only use the samples obtained to check against this particular crime and their DNA profile will not appear on any database. Legal safeguards are in place to ensure we do not use them for any other purpose.”
Anyone with information about the murder of Valerie Graves is asked to call 101 and quote Operation Ensign or to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.