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A mistake made in the laboratory

A police error has hindered the investigation into the deaths of Ruth and José Bretón

A forensic report commissioned by the family of the mother of missing children Ruth and José Bretón has seen the story take an unexpected twist. The youngsters, aged two and six, disappeared on October 8 of last year in Córdoba when they were with their father, who is now in prison charged with involvement in their disappearance.

The privately commissioned report, which has now been ratified by a second analysis commissioned by the police, concludes that among the remains of a bonfire found on the paternal grandparents’ estate there are bones and teeth that correspond to children of the age of Ruth and José. An early report by the Police Forensic Department had concluded that these remains were not human.

This new finding reveals that the police already had in their hands the key that might have solved the case very soon after the investigation began. Had the first analysis been correct, it would have saved 11 months of costly inquiries, and a great deal of suffering on the part of the children’s mother and relatives, as they wondered what had become of the pair.

What is particularly surprising in this case is the failure of precisely the part of the investigation that normally has the least room for margin of error, since forensic examination essentially depends on the correct, diligent application of a set of established methods of analysis.

Also surprising is the blunt forcefulness with which the mistaken report declared at the time that the remains of teeth and bones were not human, but belonged to small rodents — when the forensic analyst contacted by the family, a well-known expert, affirms that even the most basic anatomical observation points to the opposite conclusion.

It is deplorable that an error of this scale has so greatly hindered an investigation that from the very start was headed in the right direction.

An act of vengeance

From the beginning the police were working with the correct hypothesis of an act of vengeance on the part of the children’s father against his wife, who had demanded a divorce; and the detective work was focused on the orchard estate of the paternal grandparents, where the children had been seen for the last time.

We can only be relieved that this sad episode has arrived at its denouement. Because, while the tragedy of the children can no longer be avoided, at least the anguished uncertainty of their family has come to an end, as well as the vain efforts of an investigation that seemed doomed to go on finding its way in the dark.

What now seems in order, and urgently so, is an internal investigation to determine where and how such an error arose in the nearly always dependable work of the Police Forensic Department. And if negligence is found, then the person or persons responsible for it should be held accountable for their omission.

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