Police in the north are facing questions after confirmation they stored human body parts from people who died under suspicious circumstances without alerting families.
Relatives are now being contacted, with police acknowledging the revelation will be an “incredibly difficult time” for the families bereaved over a 40-year period.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) declined to confirm the number of cases involved, but the figure has been placed at 67, and is said to include murder cases from the Troubles.
Investigators retained human tissue and body parts as evidence from 1960 to 2005, with some held for substantial periods and without any apparent need to secure the consent of families.
Politicians responsible for overseeing policing in the region have said they are shocked by the news.
Details of a UK-wide audit by police services on the retention of such human tissue are to be published on May 21.
The PSNI said: “In 2010 the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) issued a direction asking all mortuaries holding post-mortem tissue samples to undertake an audit and report back to them.
“In order to identify a national picture, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) advised all Chief Constables in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to conduct an audit of all human tissue held in connection with suspicious deaths and murders.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland has a dedicated team committed to this led by Service Improvement ACC George Hamilton.
“The audit has enabled PSNI to identify and consider the most appropriate way of sensitively dealing with human tissue no longer required to be held for criminal investigations.”