Police say more bodies are likely to be found at a former care home in Jersey, England after the remains of a child were discovered under the floor.
The remains are believed to date from the early 1980s and will take at least 14 days to identify, police said today, adding that retrieving DNA from the body will by "very difficult."
Lenny Harper, Jersey’s Deputy Chief Police Officer, said he feared more remains would be found at the former home, in Haut de la Garenne, and had “strong fears” it would turn into a murder investigation.
The sniffer dog that led investigators to the child's body, under several inches of concrete, has "indicated" other areas in the building which police will be looking into, Harper said Sunday.
Harper said that alleged abuse at the former care home, now a youth hostel, is believed to span over 40 years, beginning in 1960 and ranging from physical and mental abuse to the "most serious sexual crimes imaginable."
Police say they have identified 140 victims and 40 suspects.
He added that he feared further remains would be found and had “strong fears” it would turn into a murder investigation.
“We don’t yet know how this child came to meet his or her death. We can’t say that it was a homicide but have to treat it this way,” he said, as forensic officers continued to search the building today.
He said allegations at the home ranged from “pretty severe physical and mental abuse” to the most serious sexual crimes.
Stuart Syvret, Jersey’s former Health Minister, said he was “not surprised” by the discovery of the body and feared it was the “tip of the iceberg."
The ex-minister said that abuse had been a “significant long term structural feature of child care in Jersey”, although he doubted it was still going on today.
At one time, the Victorian building in the north east of the island was home to as many as 60 young people with special needs.
Senator Frank Walker, Jersey's Chief Minister, said: "It is imperative that our children are safe in Jersey, and I believe that today they are. It is however clear that this has not always been the case and, although we can’t right the wrongs of the past, we will do everything in our power to assist the police in seeking out the person or persons responsible.”
The investigation into abuse of boys and girls between 11 and 15 began in November last year and is focusing on several government institutions, but the Haute de la Garenne home and Jersey Sea Cadets are at the centre of the inquiry.
Police sniffer dogs and a specialist team of investigators using ground-penetrating radar have been drafted in from the U.K. mainland to help with the search.
A special helpline set up for people to call was inundated by more 100 phone calls from alleged victims. Haut de la Garenne opened in 1867 as the Industrial School, for “young people of the lower classes of society and neglected children."
It closed in 1986, reopening in 2004 as a youth hostel after a nearly $5 million renovation. The building featured as a police station in the TV series "Bergerac."
In January, police charged Gordon Claude Wateridge, 76, with the abuse of three girls aged under 16 between 1969 and 1979 while they were at the home.
He was also charged with possession of a firearm but police stressed they were not "at this moment in time" linking him with the discovery made.