Search for schoolgirl missing since 1957 closes in on canal

Moira Anderson Credit: ITV News

The lead detective searching for the remains of a schoolgirl who vanished in 1957 says his team is now focusing on a "high priority" stretch of canal.

Moira Anderson was 11 when she disappeared from her home in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, while running an errand for her grandmother.

In 2014, prosecutors took the unprecedented step of announcing that local bus driver and convicted paedophile Alexander Gartshore, who died in 2006, would have faced prosecution for the schoolgirl's murder if he were still alive.

A reinvestigation set up in 2013 has now identified six potential deposition sites in Coatbridge, with a 170m area of Monklands canal the number one area of interest.

Specialists in sonar scanning, ground-penetrating radar and magnetometry are to scour the area over the next two weeks to identify any "anomalies" which divers will then investigate.

When asked about the significance of the area, Detective Superintendent Patrick Campbell told ITV News: "It's very near the bus route that would have been driven by Alexander Gartshore at that particular time, and the turning circle for the bus.

"And also, more importantly, the morning after - on the 24th February 1957 - there are two witnesses who have identified a male carrying a large sack containing a large item down toward the bank."

Speaking earlier, he said: "It's also about 900m from the last sighting of Moira on February 23 1957, which was within the Carnbroe area.

He added that teams will be looking for skeletal remains as well as any jewellery or clothing that may have survived.

A plot in Old Monkland Cemetery, Coatbridge, was previously searched by experts but failed to find Moira's remains.

Police had been investigating the possibility Gartshore dumped the youngster's body in the grave of an acquaintance named Sinclair Upton.

The Crown Office enlisted the help of forensic soil scientist Professor Lorna Dawson as part of efforts to find Moira's remains, leading to the latest search.

Detective Superintendent Patrick Campbell Credit: ITV News

Mr Campbell said: "The land round about (the canal) has not changed much in 60 years.

"We know it's been dredged three times but that's taken place only really at the sides of the canal in general.

"We remain optimistic that we can recover her remains and bring closure to her family, but it will be challenging and we've explained that to both Moira's sisters.

"This isn't something that we would anticipate going into the water and finding right away, this is something that will be extremely time-consuming and challenging."

The search comes from a review of historical witness statements as well as new information since the reinvestigation began in 2013.

Moira's sisters have been kept up to date with developments.

Mr Campbell said: "Janet was over last month for the 60th anniversary of Moira's disappearance and I personally brought her down here to explain what we're going to do.

"She's back over in Australia now but fully aware of where we are, and I had a detailed discussion with Marjory."