Turi has presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary called Genetics and the Longer Arm of the Law looking into the advances in forensic genetics in the last 30+ years.https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09sp57z

She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Leicester for their science stories. She hosts podcasts for the University of Leicester and the National Institute of Health Research interviewing researchers about their work. She has also recorded podcasts of her own.

Turi featured on The Life Scientific being interviewed by Jim Al-Khalili. You can listen that via The Life Scientific website – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006m3f

Turi featured in BBC Radio 4’s The Reunion as one of the key members of the Richard III project. You can listen via The Reunion website –https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000tvgf

She also has her own podcast channel on PodBean, which can be found here. https://professorturiking.podbean.com

My Family’s Secret: Sir Paul Nurse

Hello, I’m Turi King and today I am talking to Paul Nurse, who is a rather famous geneticist and director of the Francis Crick Institute. He’s also a former president of the Royal Society, and he’s won pretty much every scientific award, including the Nobel Prize, which he was awarded, along with two others, for their discoveries of protein molecules that control how cells divide, duplicating themselves, so that’s pretty huge, that’s part of understanding the basis of life.

He is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most eminent scientists, and he’s also a knight of the realm. And he also has a pretty incredible family story because at the age of 57, he found out that the person he thought was his sister was actually his mother and the people he thought were his parents were actually his grandparents. So, Paul, let’s start at the beginning, tell me a bit about your early life and your family.

Well, I came from a working-class family. We lived in Alperton, that’s northwest London. They were, at least I thought then, I had two brothers and one sister and also my parents and my grandparent. And we were all living in a two-bedroom flat, so it was a bit crowded.

Then my sister, she got married when I was two and a half, three, so I didn’t know it at home, but she used to visit very regularly after that. And my two brothers were also quite a lot older than me, so I was a bit of an only child. And the family wasn’t very academic, we didn’t have many books, hardly any in fact, and we moved, and I was a bit far from my school, so I had a mile, mile and a half to walk every day. And that meant that I spent quite a lot of time by myself.

And I sort of got used to, sort of, just looking at the world around me, looking at the park I was walking through and how that was changing, you know, the different flowers, insects and birds. By the time I came home in the middle of winter, it was stars and looking at the moon and these planets and got quite interested in the natural world. And that interest in both natural history and amateur astronomy still stays with me. But it had its origins when I was eight, nine, ten, eleven, walking to school by myself.

So, you had this pretty kind of normal childhood, really, and this kind of sowing the seeds of your scientific interest seemed to start quite young.

Yes, it was pretty normal. I mean, my parents were quite elderly, and I sometimes used to say it’s like being brought up by your grandparents because, you know, they were a little on the stayed side, but it was very normal, very happy, very supportive.

I was quite good at school and my parents sort of helped me, I didn’t have to do paper rounds, and so on, to earn money for the family, which my siblings had to do. And I always remember being told that my sister used to work on the Saturdays in the local cinema, you know, selling ice creams, and she would let in her younger brothers through the fire exit, so they could go and see the Saturday matinee films without having to pay. So, I mean, it was, that sort of, quite a jolly, sort of, household, I think. And I was really very happy as a child.

But you had a bit of a family bombshell in your early thirties, because we’re going to be talking about family bombshells and you had your first one of these when you were in your thirties, didn’t you?

I did, and this was a bit of a surprise. I had two daughters, and we were visiting my parents, who had retired from London and gone back to Norfolk, which is where they both came from, and they were living in a village near Great Yarmouth. And my older daughter Sarah was doing a project at primary school called Family Trees, and I thought, well, Sarah, you could talk to your grandma.

So, we were there, Saturday morning I think it was. And she had a clipboard, you know, earnest little girl, 9-10, with her pen. And she took grandma away to talk about the family tree.

About 5 or 10 minutes later, my mum came back into the room, and she was completely white as a sheet. She was obviously really distressed and so she said, I’d been talking to Sarah about the family tree and there’s something I’ve never told you, and I said, well what was that mum? And he said, well, I was illegitimate, that is, she was illegitimate. And she had been born in the poor house in 1910, in North Norfolk. And her mother was young, I don’t quite know how young, but unmarried.

And then she told me that she had been brought up by her grandmother, and her mother got married to somebody else and then had another family who I thought were my uncles and aunts, but of course were half uncles and aunts, I think. And she never told me this, ever.

So, I was absorbing this, and then she said, and actually it’s the same for your father, too. And, you know, I thought, well, this is a bit of a double whammy. He was also illegitimate. In his case, his mother was older, and single, and brought him up until he was 7 or 8, then married somebody else who was actually the person I thought was my grandfather.

So suddenly, in the space of about 5 minutes, I learned that my grandfather’s and uncles and aunts weren’t quite what they were. And not only that, but of course both my parents were illegitimate. So that was my first shock. It wasn’t sort of a huge shock, but it was completely unexpected.

Yeah, and because you’ve grown up thinking these people are your grandfathers, on both side of your tree, and they weren’t.

Absolutely correct. I don’t know very much about their early childhood. Neither of them really wanted to talk about it, to be quite honest. But what happened, and I think this wasn’t so unusual, is that both of them, my mother and my father, went into service in the local big house. And I’ve subsequently read that that wasn’t so uncommon at that time. We’re not talking about the 1920s, there were big houses, they needed servants, and if there were illegitimate children, or in somewhat different circumstances, they were quite often at the age of 15 or 16, went and worked in the local big house.

So, my father was a sort of, handyman and learned to drive a car and a bit of a chauffeur, my mother was a cleaner and then a cook. So, they met in the house, both of them being illegitimate.

So, the thing is, we know from that generation, that would have been a huge stigma. It’s common, my goodness, it’s so common. But for them, I suppose from that particular generation, there would have been this stigma attached to it, knowing their ancestry like that.

I think so, I mean, this is so, sort of, not what would happen today that it’s almost difficult to imagine it. But we’re looking at a birth in 1908 and the birth in 1910, so it’s Edwardian times, and there was, I am sure, huge stigma, I mean, that got less but it was only after the 60s – 1970s that this began to fade away.

And now, of course, it’s almost of no consequence. So, it’s difficult, maybe, for some of you listening to even imagine what on earth is all this fuss about. But believe me, there really was a fuss in Edwardian times.

And interesting, kind of a mirroring there because your, the person who you thought was your mum was brought up by her grandparent and this mirrors what then you found out later.

So, there’s your first bombshell in the family, everything’s, kind of, beetling along and that’s fine. And meanwhile you’re, you know, doing things like winning Nobel Prizes and becoming a knight of the realm, that kind of thing. And then you go at your next surprise, I love the story behind this.

Yes, this was actually truly a bombshell. And I had moved to the United States in about 2002, 2003. I was president of a very distinguished university called Rockefeller University, it’s a research university, very small but very research intensive. So, there were only 100 faculty in New York City. And when I was there, there were eight Nobel laureates, on 100 faculty. This is just an unbelievably high percentage.

But I enjoyed it very much, and I was living in New York City, and I had a standalone house in Manhattan, I mean, overlooking the east river, extraordinary, I mean, house valued at $50 million. And I remember we went on holiday quite a long way away, it may have even been Australia. And what had happened, just before we went, I had applied for a green card. I’d written references for many others for a green card, but what happened was I was rejected for my green card, which was a surprise because by that time I was president of a famous university I had a Nobel Prize, I was knighted, and Homeland Security rejected me. Mainly on bureaucratic reasons, because my birth certificate did not name my parents. It named where I was born, when I was born, and my citizenship and so on, but did not name my parents.

Now, it was a short birth certificate, which was invented in the 1940s, as I subsequently learned to actually mask illegitimacy, in part, and this is the birth certificate I had. Now I knew it was a short birth certificate because I’d actually asked my parents why I had a short one rather than a long one, and they rather brilliantly answered that it was cheaper than the long one, okay. And I, being gullible, thought, well fair enough, you know, we weren’t a rich family, so I was rejected, and they said, provide proof about your parentage.

So, I wrote to the registry office in London and asked for a full birth certificate, which I could have got any time in my life, I was then in my mid-fifties. And we went to Australia and when I came back I was in my big office, you know, American big office, huge office, and I had in the room my P.A., her assistant, my lab manager and my wife, and I was opening my mail and I could hear this conversation going on between my P.A. and my wife, and my P.A. was asking Anne, is it possible that when Paul filled out a form to apply for a green card, is it possible he got the name of his mother wrong? And Anne said, no, I’m sure not.

And of course, your ears prick up with something like that. But they pricked up in everybody in the room. So, they all looked up and they all looked at me. And then I was given this brown envelope, and I opened the envelope and there is my long birth certificate, which has been sitting in the registry office in London for over 50 years. And it names my mother, who’s my sister, Miriam Nurse is what was written there.

And I thought, well this is very strange. And then I seem to remember being told that Miriam had registered me, and she was the most, sort of, articulate and intelligent, really, and I thought, well, maybe she was helping her mum and dad to register me. And maybe then there was some confusion, is what I thought.

Then I looked around to the father and there’s just a line. And I thought, this is getting a little strange. But I still was reasonably convinced that it had to be a mistake. So, I phoned up the registry office and explain what has happened. And I had a somewhat bored person talking to me and wasn’t really paying attention. And then I sort of repeated, I said, because the name here isn’t the person I thought was my mother, and it was if suddenly the person I speaking to, it was a lady, woke up and said, oh, and what she’d remembered is the training she’d received, you know, if somebody asked questions like this. And she said, Are you alone, sir? And I said, no. She said, could you sit down, maybe you should get a cup of tea, you know.

That’s very English.

Very English. Maybe you should get a cup of tea. And I said, why are you saying this? And she said, well we don’t make mistakes and I’m sure this is absolutely true.

So, what had happened is that my mother got pregnant, I think at 17. Had gave birth to me at 18, but she was sent away to her aunt, who I thought was my aunt, but actually wasn’t my aunt and in fact was the half-sister of my mother. So, I mean, let’s not even go there, but I mean, I thought she was my aunt, but it’s some other more distant connection, gave birth to me, and then my mother, who now became my grandmother, went to Norwich, which is where it was, and stayed there for several months and then came back and pretended she was the mother. So that’s what happened.

So, I then contacted my two brothers, who had rapidly turned into my uncles, of course, and said, do you know anything about this? And they said, no, mum, that it’s up to then my mother, went to Norwich for a few months, then came back with you. Being boys, they didn’t think anything of it, I suspect. So, I couldn’t get any information there.

Now, Miriam I couldn’t speak to because she died early of multiple sclerosis, so I couldn’t speak to her. And then I remembered that the daughter, of the person who I thought was my aunt in Norwich, would have been about 11 or 12 living there. And I knew her, not very well, but I knew her certainly weren’t enough to phone her up and ask about it. And she then said, yes, this is all true. And she was taken by her father and said, you must never tell anybody about this, this is a secret and we’re going to keep it a secret. And they all kept it a secret for half a century.

And as you’ve already pointed out, Turi, I was now being brought up by my grandmother, and it’s a complete action replay of what had happened in 1910, only now it was happening in 1949, exactly the same thing.

I mean, goodness, you’ve just found out that Miriam, who you thought was your sister, is actually your mum, and the people you thought were your parents are actually your grandparents and that people have hidden this, how are you doing?

Well, it was hidden, and I think it was kept hidden because nobody wanted to upset anybody else. And I think they were just initially protecting their daughter, then protecting me, and then the status quo was sort of, okay, so let’s just leave it as it is. And frankly, I really understand that, I mean, I have a lot of respect for it.

I always emphasize, everybody was trying to do their best for me, I wasn’t sent out for adoption or anything, and nobody thought that I should be told. So, they were for sure protecting members of the family, including me.

Does it make sense, though, because in hindsight, you now know that your much older sister was actually your mum? Did things, kind of, slot into place, in hindsight? Did you go, ah that makes sense?

Well, my real mother, now, let’s now change to my mother, the real mother and my grandparents who brought me up rather than my parents, she used to come back with her family every Sunday, or every other Sunday, until I was aged 11 or 12, and I didn’t think too much of it at the time, you know, they were bringing their children, they had three children, who are now my half siblings, whom I knew and have a very good relationship with, and they were visiting their grandparents. But it was very regular, and I now, of course, think she was also visiting me.

And there’s a story, isn’t there, about photographs?

There is, and this was one of my new half siblings who used to be my nephews and nieces, now my half-brother and half-sisters. Apparently, my mother kept four baby photographs next to her bed. Three were her legitimate children, the fourth was me. They asked about that fourth photograph, and they said, oh well this was my baby brother and, you know, I knew him when he was just a baby, and that would have made some sort of sense. But maybe had I known that I might have started thinking about it, I might have done, I’m not sure. But obviously I was still high in her affections, and she never told me, as I’m sure she didn’t want to disturb everything. She did visit, she saw how I was getting along.

When I got 16, 17, 18 and it was late 1960s, you know, and all a bit hippie like, she would make exotic clothing from me, you know, sort of, I remember a brilliant green cloak and purple flares and stuff like this. And now I realize she was sort of being a mother to me, one step removed.

It must have been ridiculously poignant, though, for your mum, I mean, I’m a mum, you’re a parent, to leave your son, but also to watch you, I mean, she must have been ridiculously proud, did you ever get any… you won the Nobel Prize, I mean, any mum would have been beside themselves.

Well, the first thing is I’ve emphasized there’s no tragedy for me, this must have been a deep tragedy for her. My poor mother had to give me up because of what society was like and I want to shout to the rooftops, this is not shameful. What is shameful for everybody to think it was necessary to take me away from her. And somehow by talking about it, I do my best somehow to counter that. And it really has to do with supporting my mother, in a very weird way because obviously she’s died. But it just wasn’t right what happened.

Now, she died before I got the Nobel Prize, but I had been knighted and I was a professor at Oxford and then went to run Cancer Research UK. Towards the end of her life, the last year or so, multiple sclerosis began to really take its toll, but she certainly recognized that I had an unexpected trajectory, for sure.

So now you’ve got this next thing which you don’t know who your biological father is. And I remember meeting you, you came up to the university where I work for, must have been about a decade ago, and I remember you telling me about this story and that you had some ideas about who your biological father might be, so tell me about that?

Well, obviously, I thought about who my biological father was and, you know, I thought maybe a student or something and somebody who’d had a more academic career because, you know, nobody in my family had stayed at school beyond the age of 15, and then suddenly I’m, sort of, staying at school and going to university and all that stuff.

So, I just thought about it, I had several ideas, you know, did my mother tell me who he was a bit in code, so I tried to imagine, did she mention things. And I, sort of, made up stories, really, which I mean, turned out not to be true. You know, she gave me a flying helmet and I think she said this was from an old boyfriend, you know, and so I thought maybe my father was an airman or something, you know, after the Second World War. And strangely, I’m a pilot actually. So, I mean, I actually do fly planes, so, sort of, there was a connection there. And I honestly thought, until you came along, I was never, never going to find out.

Then I did take a DNA test, and I think a friend of mine in the US had discovered things about himself by doing one of these tests, and he actually sent it to me.

So, once I had it in my hand, I did it, sent it off, and then it came back with two really quite close positives. And I thought, well, that possibly could be a link, but I had no way of actually contacting them. And do you know, to be quite honest, I was reluctant to do it, I’m British, you know, you feel I’m going to, you know, disturb things. So, I just left it, knowing out there, there were at least two people, and there were others who were more distant, who I had no idea who they were. And I thought, this is probably something to do with my father. And that’s where I left it until the Infinite Monkey Show.

So, I do remember saying to you, gosh, it must’ve been about a decade ago, you know, have you ever thought about doing DNA? And I remember you were saying you were really busy, and it just hadn’t been on your agenda. But then we did the Infinite Monkey Cage together, back in the summer. And I remember saying to you, so, you know, have you ever thought about doing this? And you’d mentioned you taken this ancestry test, but you didn’t quite know what to do with it.

So, I said, you know, hey, let me have a look for you. I’ll see if I can trace who your biological father is. So, I knew you were going off to Japan the next day, and you said to get in contact with your lovely executive assistant, and she would give me the login details and I would start having a look for you. And it was a Friday evening, and it didn’t take me long to come down on sort of 3 brothers from this rather large family.

One I could see had gotten married and had moved off somewhere, so I thought was unlikely to be them. That brings me down to 2. I’ve got that match, which is quite close. And when you looked at her name, I was like, okay, so there’s two people in the records with this name, looking at her photo, she looks like a younger one. So, then I’m going, who are her parents? And I started looking at the birth records, basically, and working my way up and building this tree. And so that’s bringing me down to this one individual. And I remember thinking, do you want me to talk to you about this now, or do you want to wait until you’re back from Japan? And you did want to know, and that’s how it went.

Well, I can tell you, I was just taking this sort of genetic look at it, but what you added, which was so important was your knowledge of genealogy and how to trace birth certificates, marriage certificates and so on, to work out what was happening. And I hadn’t fully appreciated the power of putting both of those together. And I was just limping around on one leg, really, which is why I’d really abandoned it. And yes, I wanted to know, you know, and then bang it comes.

What I remember is sitting there in my tiny little room in Hiroshima, I’d just come back from the conference where I was speaking and up came your email, and there’s my father. I mean, you were careful, you said, this is, I forget exactly, 95% or something. But the mere fact that his parents lived only 200 or 300 yards away from where we lived, just really said something is right about this. Of course, you pointed out that there we’re brothers, so it required a little bit more work on your part. But I thought, my goodness, this is the third shock in my life, I am going to find out who my father is.

And yeah, and as I’m trying to find your biological father, I’m kind of like 95% sure that it’s this chap. And what I really need to do is I need one of his children to take a DNA test for us, to really kind of pin it down, I’m expecting that to come back as a half sibling. So, I’m having to do a lot of work, kind of building the tree down, and I could see that he’d gotten married twice and that they were sort of, you know, six children around and can I find one of them? And I get a bit stalkery, because I’m then getting on things like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and trying to trace these individuals. And eventually I ended up chatting to a couple of them, who were really lovely, and one of them was happy to do a DNA test to confirm it all for us.

I don’t think I could have done it personally but having you do it just made it somehow possible, because you were one step removed. They could have said no, and it would have been okay. But if it was just too personal for me, and I hadn’t appreciated that either, really, until you’re in the middle of all of this, you don’t sort of think your way through it. And you’re obviously very good at the conversations.

And then it just all came out, it took a few more weeks. It came back, I think I had 27% identity genetically, with one of my new half-siblings, half-brother, of which there are six, by the way. And so, this is all sort of happened, but I couldn’t have done it myself.

Okay. So, I have to say, when the photos were coming through, oh my goodness, he so looked like you. How was that?

Well, it was very strange, particularly my wife Anne remarks upon it. I have a picture of him at, I think it was his 80th birthday, and he indeed looks a bit like me, quite a lot like me. He had a glass of red wine in front of him, which I’m afraid I quite like glass of wine, so there was that connection. But there was also, and I’m doing it now in front of you, he was leaning like this, and I do that all the time, especially when I’m thinking. Now it’s not such an unusual gesture, but it was so typical. And of course, my family just say, it’s you.

So, have they been able to tell you stories about him?

Yes. My father was a London transport bus driver. And I think he operated from the bus station where I as a child used to go and collect bus numbers. Then I was told that he didn’t like driving the busses because they had to stop all the time. So actually, then became a long-distance lorry driver. And then subsequently a chauffeur driving rich people about.

He was supposed to be very curious. I think the word, cheeky chappy, was sort of used. And would read quite a lot of Reader’s Digest of things, which was quite popular at the time, actually, I seem to remember. But it was a very normal, ordinary sort of profession.

But your mum and him were both very young, you know, so your mum was 17, he would have been 2, 3 years older, that’s it, and not married or anything like that. He was, he was very young. So, it sounds like it was just a very young relationship.

I have an idea which maybe I can sort out, that he was on National Service and maybe was back at home for leave. Now, I don’t really know if that’s true, but if it is true, he would have gone back out on National Service and maybe had no idea about my existence. And then, you know, my poor mother became pregnant and then probably didn’t know what to do because he’d gone. And that’s probably where the family cooked up the idea of going to her aunt’s and to deal with it that way. I don’t know if that’s true, but it just might be.

Does it make you feel differently about your own family at all or not at all?

My family was trying to do their best for me, and obviously all these family secrets have gradually emerged, although the complete story is taken over 70 years. Today, we wouldn’t have to keep it a secret, and I’m probably the last generation that this was so important.

My daughters have really taken it quite well. I remember when the second of the events, I had one daughter who was a professor of physics, actually, she’s now working on climate change, and she was in Chicago. And she was being visited by her sister, my other daughter, and they were rollerblading around the lake, and I phoned them up and I said, you need to sit down, I need to tell you about the fact that Miriam was my mother. And they absorbed all of that and it was all straightforward.

Now we’ve got the new chapter and we’ve spoken quite a bit about it, but not completely fully because I’m still gathering information.

And that was something I was going to ask you, so you find out that Miriam is your mum, which means that people you thought were your nephews and nieces and now your half-siblings, I mean, these things never happen in isolation, there’s other people who are affected. So presumably you have to tell them?

Yes, of course, and I told them actually within 24 hours of finding out. I immediately emailed them, actually, because I was then in New York, and they were in the UK. They were tremendously good and understanding about all of this, you know, there was nothing complicated. I mean, obviously a bit of a shock to them as well.

So, I have 9 half-siblings, 3 on my mother’s side, 6 on my father’s side, and everybody has been just very positive, really.

Is there anything you are really hoping to find out from chatting to your half-siblings?

Well, you know, I think I’d probably come to the end of the story in the sense I had this gap of not knowing who my father was, once I realized that my mother was Miriam. Of course, I’d like to know a little bit more about their relationship. This is something I’m not going to be able to find out, I’m sure.

I used to say I’d like to have a half hour conversation with my mother across the grave, just to sort some things out. Genetics and science has sorted some of it out, but not the more emotional side.

I think it’s quite nice for doing this on Miriam’s birthday.

I do too and thank you mum.

DNA Family Secrets: Who is my dad? Richard’s story

So, today I am talking to the wonderful Richard, who was one of our contributors on the second series of DNA Family Secrets. And whenever I talk to people about season two yours is one of the standout stories for them, and how you wanted to find out who your biological father was, and we have a little story because you ended up being on the programme because you first contacted me after series one, didn’t you, of DNA Family Secrets, and we just heard it been recommissioned, so I suggested you apply and the rest is history as they say. So talk me through that little bit, because there’s a story there.

There is, there’s always a story. My uncle used to say to me it doesn’t matter what happens as long as you get a story out of it, whether it’s good or bad, but this turned out to be really good.

So, it was a midweek in the middle of lockdown, my wife Kim had watched the first series and it was Bill’s story. And she said, come and watch this. And it’s not something I’d normally watch, but it really kind of hit home and I thought, okay why wouldn’t I do this, which isn’t normally how I’d think.

My mum had passed away about 12 months, 18 months earlier and all avenues of me ever finding out an answer to who my biological dad were gone as far as I was concerned. And then this kind of came up, and there was a book I read years ago and it’s by Danny Wallace called The Yes Man, and it’s about saying yes to things, you know, if someone said to him, will you donate? He’d have to donate, and he’d have to do all this mad crazy stuff, but out the back of it he got an Edinburgh show and a wife and all these things. So, not as often as I’d like to but to try and take that philosophy sometimes, and jump into things that are scary, which this was.

So, I thought right I’m going try and find out who you are, and I wrote to you at Leicester University and said, I’ve just seen this show, I don’t know who my dad is, I’ve never found that out, is there anything you can do to help? And that was it, I fired off that email and never thought I’d hear anything, and fair dues to you, within a couple of hours you got back to me and said, okay this is how I take the next step.

So, yeah for you answering that email it’s your fault that we’re here now, and it’s also Bill’s fault for having such an amazing story, and it’s Kim’s fault for making me watch it. So, all these things came together and yeah now we’re here having a chat.

So, for those who haven’t seen the programme, what was your question when you first came?

So, my question was I didn’t know where it was from on my father’s side. I knew everything about my mum’s side and I’d kind of been brought up by me nan and grandad. So, I knew everything about that, but I knew nothing, just a blank page on that side, I think that’s how I described it. And I came into this and I think the question was, I don’t know my biological father was, was on the programme, in my mind that wasn’t what I was trying to answer, I wanted to know where I was from.

I’ve got a big nose, so my wife was always kind of saying, well where’s that come from, I don’t think it’s that big, but that was the question of who’s my biological father, but that wasn’t the answer I was expecting.

So, what was it like growing up?

I was an only child, who lived with me nan and grandad, and probably drove them mad. They brought me up and me nan was born in 1900, so when I was born she was 69. And, you know, my mum lived with them, but although I was an only child I used to spend all my time with my cousins, who grew up in pubs. So I spent a lot of time with them, they were all older than me but they kind of brought me up and they were brilliant, so I owe a lot to them, and also my aunties.

But I had loads of other cousins and friends and things, I was never in the house I was always out playing football, out my bike. There was times I used to kind of think, I’d love to have a brother or a sister to play with, because everyone else did. There was no one else school, there was no one else in the streets who was an only child, but I didn’t miss out on anything, you know I went on holidays, me aunty had a caravan. I didn’t want for anything, this is not a poor me story, you know, it’s really not, I did really well, playing football, loads of holidays, loads of laughs, loads of great stories, yeah it was good.

It sounds like you had a lovely childhood but I suppose there’s always this thing about who’s your father. So when did that kind of start to become a thing for you?

I think as you get to kind of, I think seven, eight, I think as you start to move out of Junior school, I don’t know what it’s called these days, you start to realise, parents evenings, things like that, that certainly in Liverpool in a Catholic school there wasn’t many divorces, it just, you know, stay and be unhappy, don’t try and get divorced you know you’ve got to have all this type of family together.

And it was a tough time in Liverpool in the late 70s early 80s, there was a lot of unemployment, a lot of people struggling, but mums and dads were always kind of there. And I did notice, okay well I haven’t got this, and remember there was one time that my granddad wanted to come and watch me play football, and because he was so much older, and he’s in his 70s, I didn’t want him to come. And that’s horrible, I hate little me for that. All he wanted to do was see me play football, but I was, no I don’t want you on the line because you’re older.

So, I did kind of start to get into it when I was about eight or nine, that I was aware that I didn’t have her dad. I probably wasn’t brave enough until a few years later to actually raise it with me mum, because she could be quite volatile now and again over this type of stuff. So, I probably wasn’t brave enough until, you know, I started senior school, high school, to kind of raise it with me mum. So, I was aware of it but not brave enough to find anything out.

So, what was it like when you asked your mum?

I think she ignored it the first time, I think she just probably wouldn’t have said anything, just ignored me. It was weird because, you know, me nan and granddad are really open people, but even they kind of didn’t raise it, because late 70s in Liverpool, you know, there wasn’t many. And I get there was a bit of embarrassment or whatever, but over time it became an ongoing thing, and then it got to the point of the stories used to change every time I asked, and there was different things that happened, as we got through into older years, that just kind of ruined the relationship with my mum over time, over this. We got on, you know, I used to come see me mum all the time, but it was always there and whenever it came up we would probably fall out over it to be honest for a bit.

So, that must be really frustrating not knowing and you’ve been left, you know, without some sort of answer?

There was an incident whereby I went to get my birth certificate, I’m probably about 19 at this point. So I went to the records office in Liverpool and I asked the lady said could you tell me before I buy this, has this got a father’s name on the birth certificate? And she said, I shouldn’t tell you but yes it does. So I’m like, I’m going to find out and my dad is here, this is the day I’m going find who my dad is, I can remember that really clearly as we’re talking about it. And I get it and it’s a made-up name on the birth certificate, one that can’t be true because mum wasn’t married and it had the same surname as me. So, by that point I’m now raging, I’m so angry, because not only that I don’t know who my dad is, I’ve got a false birth certificate now.

So that did bring everything to a head then and it did become quite a volatile conversation then whenever it happened. But again my mum would just dismiss it and make up this story about somebody else that was just not true. I think she painted herself into a corner, she was stubborn but she also had beliefs and principles and she probably thought for whatever mental reason she was doing the right thing. And I get when you were younger but when I’m still asking at 20, 30, 40, and you’ve got grandkids who are then asking, who are grown up, to not tell them I just don’t understand it, and it did affect the relationship with me mum.

So, when you came to the programme, I know kind of the question was, you know, who is my biological father, but I know your main question was really like, I just want to know where I’m from?

Yeah, I honestly thought if I find out which part of the world I’m from, that’ll do me. Maybe that’s a bit of a cop-out because, then you don’t have all the other stuff that comes with it, but that’s the story I told myself that I was happy with, and I would have been happy with that, and if you just stopped the conversation and said, you’re from Ireland, you’re more Irish than you are English, thanks very much nice to meet you, and I’d have gone off and been made up. I’d have honestly been made up with that.

But, I mean, and that was a really easy bit, and you touched on something really important there because, telling somebody what their ancestry is on a particular side of the family is actually something that’s really straightforward, just because the databases are so huge. But we are at the mercy of the databases and who’s already tested, and how closely they match you and then being able to build the family trees.

So sometimes we aren’t able to give people answers and wrap things up in a nice little bow, and I think that’s actually a really important part of this programme, is that we’re very honest about that. But we got some really lovely matches for your DNA and from that able to build family trees, so I remember this, because I remember being able to tell you, look this is your ancestry, this is a really easy bit and then my next bit is, so are you ready for more information. What’s going through your head?

I’m scared now, I’m scared now, I’ve only watched it once. You get a preview before it goes live, just to make sure that there’s nothing in there that we’re not happy with, which was brilliant to see, that was great. And then when it went live that day I thought I can’t watch this, and I’ll explain why because, me and you are in the room, and obviously there’s a film crew there, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just me and you and we’re chatting, like we are now. And we’ve done the bit around you saying that, and I’m thinking, this is brilliant, great, and then you say to me, we found more are you ready? and even now it’s hard because, I know that everything that I’ve been told for 50 years is about to change, in that moment, and to have that, both as an opportunity, but to know that something is about to be given to you where it’s all about to change, was just overwhelming. And I think I look out the window for a good couple of minutes before I can even speak. And even now it’s hard because I couldn’t speak because, you’ve got this stuff for me, and I know I must have gave off waves of emotion because you were kind of pushing the tissues towards me, but that’s why I’ve not watched it because I know how scared I am. I think that’s the word, I’ll use it, I’m scared, because I don’t know what’s coming.

It’s hard to describe. Anyone who’s going through this type of stuff, or has some unanswered questions, will hopefully understand where I’m coming from, but if you’ve not been through it’s really hard to explain. But I just know that I was, I couldn’t speak before you even told me the answers, I couldn’t speak because I knew you were going to tell me something that was just about to change everything. And I wasn’t scared what the answers are, it just that it was an answer.

It’s life-changing and the biggest life-changing bit for me is the fact I don’t have to think about it anymore. And when you’re lying awake at night, you’re thinking, I wonder who my dad is, or why did my mum not tell me this, I don’t do that no more. And that’s just fantastic and I used to think about it all the time, you know, wonder what’s going on, why has that happened, I don’t think about that anymore and that’s amazing. That is so great to have that nonsense out your head, it’s like a weight gets lifted, it’s really good.

So, obviously what I was able to do was to tell you who your grandparents were. And then from that could work out that your biological father must have been one of three brothers. And we were really lucky because one of the sons, of one of those three brothers, was more than happy to take a DNA test, he was absolutely wonderful, and took a DNA test and that allowed us to pin down who your biological father was.

And you’ve alluded to this here, your expectations are lower because you don’t know what you’re going to get, and then we’re able to tell you who your biological father is and that they’re alive, so I knew like telling you this, I could see this was huge. So you leave me, and I know you’re going to go off and see Stacey, but what happened next?

So, the first bit is we leave that room and my wife Kim is outside, and she’s like, what have you found out, and I think I say to her, everything, and she goes, what do you mean. I show her the piece of paper that you’ve drawn and I went, grandparents, father, brothers and sisters, I found everything out. I’m shaking at this point I think and I don’t know what’s going on anymore, this is all like too much. So then we go into the room with Stacey and I just think we’re doing a bit of a wrap up here, and then she gets the envelope out and starts showing me pictures. So they become real then, they’re real people, and then they get an actual email from somebody who’s related to me, who I didn’t know about. It’s astounding from a Saturday morning to go to Leicester, and that then to be the outcome.

And it was just a lot to take in but then, and I will be honest, I left and sat in the car and went, I can’t just leave now, that can’t be it, that can’t be it now that I’ve done that and I leave, what happens next. And I thought I need to speak to the help and support that I’ve got from the programme and navigate my way through this in the best way because I don’t want to mess this up, and I want to do it in the right way. Because if I go in all guns blazing, going here I am, that could all go wrong. So, I don’t know how to be a brother, I don’t know if I am a brother, I don’t know what this is.

So, it was then me overthinking things probably, but also trying to take a step back from everything that’s gone on, and thinking, right what do we do next. And that’s where the support that you have in the background is just amazing, because they help you go through all of this stuff, social workers, psychologists, the production team.

You’re totally right, how do you deal with this, how do you form a, do you form a relationship, how does that work?

The email, I read that over and over again and tried to read between the lines, do you want to meet me. I think you said says it’s a shock, but a really nice shock. So the next steps were, there’s an amazing lady who, I think you have people who specialize in different parts of the world, and I had a lady called Siobhan, and we had lots of really good chats, and she kind of filled me in on some of the background to Irish families, and what this could mean and what was going on, and she acted as an intermediary between us.

She’s our social worker and she’s amazing.

She is amazing. I think we found out at Christmas time, that they had seen all the details and the science that goes behind it, and also what’s conclusive is the pictures because we all look alike, and accepted that, hey here I am, and they knew nothing about me. So I think one of the things I wasn’t prepared for when I went into this that, at the other end there’s another outcome here for these people, and I’ve turned their lives upside down, for better or for worse, and I didn’t think about that, I’ll be completely honest. I hadn’t thought about that because back to my point, I never thought this was going to be the outcome, so I didn’t think about that. And then you start to worry, I hope the timelines worked, and that I was the oldest, and didn’t exist before all these, you start to get into all of that, and think, oh no I’ve caused all kinds of problems here. Turns out, none of that was a real problem, and it all happened long before they’d arrived and stuff like that.

So, I didn’t know any of this till kind of Christmas time, that they were then wanted to meet me and that was fantastic, but we didn’t actually meet until three months later. Obviously there was a lot for them to navigate through, and they were trying to process it in their own way, but I understand it completely. Not only have they found out, hello I exist, so for me dad he’s found out he’s got a son he knew nothing about, there’s a new brother, half-brother Richard, oh and by the way it’s going to be broadcast on TV. They must have been, what is going on here, because I would, what do you mean? Okay that’s enough to take, but it’s going to be on the BBC with Stacey Dooley. And I completely understand why you’d want to take your time and get through this. So, yeah it was a mad six months after we met.

And you’re absolutely right it’s one of the things that we are completely aware of, is that, we don’t know how the other side of this, where are they in their lives, and how is this going to impact them? So obviously it’s about protecting their privacy, as well as having you being able to make contact, and we always say to people, take it slowly because it allows people to digest the news, I think, and process it really. So clearly that happened and they met you, what’s happened since?

So we eventually got in touch via Siobhan, and they said they wanted to meet me. So my dad was ready to meet me, and he’d accepted everything and remembered where he’d met me mum. And it was all the timeline all worked out long before anyone else arrived. So I went from being an only child to the oldest of five, if you like. Kim was desperate to come with me, and I was saying, no I just need to do this by myself. I’d been advised to do it by myself so they weren’t overwhelmed.

It’s quite a difficult one, well how did you meet my mum? That’s a question you can’t really ask time and time again to a guy who’s in his 70s, that’s a tough one. So I needed to be able to ask these questions and I think for them they might have been wary of me, you know, I just pitch up and, hello I’m your new half-brother, son, but I think it went well. There was pictures brought along, which was nice, and I was given them, and we went through all the families, it turns out my daughter and one of my half-brother’s daughter have got the same name, and there was just a lot of that type of thing going on, and it was nice it was a good chat.

And then within a couple of weeks I met my half-sister, who was over from overseas and half-brother, I met them. And the one person I hadn’t met was the person who’d done the DNA test, who I’ll be forever grateful for and he knows that. So I managed to get his contact details, got in touch with him and said, I know we haven’t met and I want to say thank you because I’ve been brought up that way, so will you meet me, and he said, yeah absolutely come on. And I went to his house, knocked on the door, it was like looking at me, and he opened the door and he said, hello brother and gave me the most massive hug in the world. Yeah, the bugger, made me cry, amazing.

So at this point it’s an emotional wreck, I’m just on the floor, but that was where we got to before the programmes come out, yeah, so we’d all met.

So the programme comes out, and how does it go, did you watch it?

I didn’t want to. I don’t want to watch it because of how impactful it is for me, and I didn’t want to see myself go through that again, because it’s a hard watch for me, you know, I think I’ve made people cry. I know the outcome, I know the story, I’m really pleased that it’s on there for both my grandson and granddaughter to be able to watch as they get older, and they’ll have they’ll have that. And it’s a good story isn’t it, it’s a good story with a nice outcome, but yeah, it was hard for me to watch, Kim’s watched it a few times.

We’ve got a picture in the other room of me Kim and Eddie the dog, on a beach taken from one of the stills of the programme, and I see that every day because it’s just the beach and it’s the sun coming in and it’s just us three. I didn’t think I was going to get emotional.

And where are you now with your family?

It’s going really well, I think. My, I don’t know what I’d call her, my dad’s wife, who I thought would probably be the one who would be the most suspicious, who’d have the most reason to not get involved in this, has been really supportive and has been, you know, really I think was one of the driving forces, you’ve got to go meet this guy, you need to go and see him, it’s not fair on him, you need to go and see him because he needs to see you guys and things like that, and I’ll be forever grateful for her for that, because she could have easily gone, whoa you’re not coming in and disrupting my family, and she didn’t, she welcomed me with open arms, and Kim. She’s amazing for doing that I think, yeah, I’m not sure how many people would have done that.

So one of the things about when people come to the programme is that you feel like there’s been a big hole in their life, and it’s been really quite encompassing. And then we’re able to give them answers, when that solved does that in itself leave a gap then?

The not knowing bit is a gap that I am quite happy never to have filled. That’s been pushed away, I don’t worry about it anymore, that’s done and dusted. I miss the programme though, and I miss the people around it, and I miss the fact that it was such a positive outcome, you know, that’s a bit euphoric, that however scary it was and however worried I was in that room with me and you, the joy that came out of that at the end, you know, I think anyone would miss that, because you don’t get many feelings like that in your life do you.

So I think that’s the thing that probably left a little bit of a gap for a bit, because you’ve lived it for so long. Even the process of the filming and things like that, when everyone left and, you know, they clear all the stuff away, you think, oh well that’s the end of that, but it’s not because we’re here today, we’re having a chat again today, and it’ll always be there if anyone ever wants to see it, so yeah it doesn’t end.

Richard it’s been so lovely to see you again. I always warn people when they’re going to watch the programme that they’re going to need tissues, and as I suspected you made me cry again, but thank you so much for chatting to me.

DNA Family Secrets: Who is my birth mother ? Margaret’s story

So today I’m talking to Margaret who was one of our contributors on the first series of DNA Family Secrets. So, for those of you who haven’t seen the episode that Margaret is in, when you came to us your question was essentially to find out who your mum was, because you’d been adopted when you were six months old. So, tell me about your family circumstances growing up.

From a very young age, I mean as far as I can remember back, my adopted mum told me I was adopted. And she told me the circumstances was that she couldn’t conceive, and they went to the priest and the priest said, ‘oh there’s an adoption society in Southport.’ So, yeah, they went through all the channels and picked me.

There was not a lot of information about birth mum, other than, we think she came over from Ireland. That’s as much as I thought about it and to be honest it was sort of put at the back of my mind I guess, I’m little, I’ve been adopted, I’m happy and, you know, everything was lovely so… but one of the things which was quite emotional in the filming of this was, I think it might have been Stacey said, when do you think about your birth mum?, and it was almost like, oh I do think about her on my birthday, because it’s… as a mum I would have thought I gave that child up.

At the time, you know, abortion was illegal, birth control was illegal, and we know that about 2000 women a year, you know, would come over to Liverpool to give birth and so that’s what you thought might have happened. What information did you have about your mum, you had a name didn’t you?

Yeah, I mean I didn’t find stuff out till like paperwork till after my mum had died and then I found my birth certificate with my name on it. Mum always said I was Rosemary Flynn, but actually I’m Rose Mary Flynn and I was, ‘oh right okay.’

So, they didn’t show this on camera, but we had a long and really quite emotional chat about how much this meant to you and how it was unlikely that your mum would be alive and that you really just kind of wanted anything. So just to know her name, and this is the thing I really remember, was you were really just wanted to have a photo. I remember, so we’re coming… when you came, what were you hoping…

Again, yeah, I mean to find out information, did she go on to have a good life? That was really important to know.

So, I was quite hopeful because so many people around the world have got Irish ancestry and DNA testing’s super popular in Ireland, but also in places in the world where Irish people have immigrated to, so I was cautiously hopeful.

So, the morning that you were coming to find out what the results were, how was that for you?

I was super excited, I really was, and Turi I remember when you mapped it all out and the penny hadn’t dropped, there was names, but the penny hadn’t dropped. And then, I don’t know whether you remember, I nearly lost it with emotion. And you just sort of gave me some reinforcement, for me to go in and see Stacey, but the emotion then, I didn’t know whether I could do the next bit.

It was hugely emotional because we had got really lucky, because we got a first cousin, we got a number of second cousins and a number of third cousins and what that allows us to do is build up these family trees, and then what you start to do is you see where they intersect with one another, and that allowed us to kind of home in on who your grandparents were, and they were Margaret and James Flynn and then when we looked at what children they had, they had two daughters, Bridget and Mary. So, we knew one of them had to be your mum.

Now Bridget had two children, so they were Sheamus and Maureen and when we contacted them, they were quite surprised because there always was this story that their mum’s older sister Mary had given up a child for adoption, but not their own mum Bridget. So, what we did was we got them to take DNA tests, just to be absolutely sure, because we wanted to give you the right answer and it turned out then that you had two half siblings. So, what happens when you go in and see Stacey.

I think the first thing is Stacey gives me the picture, and I looked, and I could see, you know, the facial expression and thinking, ‘oh that’s wonderful,’ and then at some stage, just then, the penny did drop, and I said to Stacey, ‘one question, is she still alive?’ And then, yeah, and she was, the bombshell, yeah, absolute bombshell. All you wish for and then it is, I mean, wow. And then, I think Stacey gave me the letter. My brother and sister they’d sat together and how did it start; I mean I’ve got it here…

So, this was dated Monday the 12th of October 2020 and it says dear Margaret, I hope this letter finds you safe and well. Seamus and I (Maureen) are overjoyed to discover we have a sister. The news came as a huge surprise, but a very nice one. We are sad that our mother kept you a secret all these years.

Our mother Bridget was born on the 17th of February 1928. In her late teens, early 20s, she worked in England as a cook, in Stonyhurst College, Lancashire. Her summer holidays were spent working in a restaurant in Morecambe. Our mother was a very bubbly outgoing person and loved her bright colours. She read a lot, enjoyed cooking, arts and crafts, doing crosswords and liked the game of bingo. She married Patrick in 1956 and settled back in Ireland. They both ran the family farm until dad passed away in December 2004. Patrick was a tall kind gentleman; they were very happy.

Our mother now is in her 93rd year and in 2015 she was diagnosed with vascular dementia and needs full-time care. We are glad to hear you had a happy childhood and made a good life for yourself. We are all looking forward to meeting you and welcoming you into our family, love Maureen and Sheamus.

It sounds like you both went off and had a nice life and then were able to come back and find each other again?

Yes, the other thing was that they were going in to see mum without the COVID restrictions. So, they were sending pictures back of my mum, you know, they were lovely, and she looked bubbly and really well cared for, you know, you could tell, and they’d say, ‘she’s on good form today and really chatty’ and I thought, oh I can’t wait to go over and experience that.

Yes, so how do you start a conversation with your half siblings?

There was no awkwardness, no, it was…. and, you know, it’s like trying to get a word in. And my brother Sheamus he’s the greatest storyteller, one after the other of them growing up and what it was like with mum and she was almost a champion sheep shearer and this is by hand with the old big scissors and oh, she’d be picking up the sheep and doing this and she taught Maureen now to do the same, and Maureen was a champion sheep shearer and there was hundreds of stories. Sheamus should write a book.

So, you’ve been to see your mum.

Oh, that lead up to going over to Ireland, I mean I’m feeling it now. I’ve never felt such emotion, waves of emotion. Thinking I’m just going to lose it, soon as I see my brother and sister. I’m just going be a wreck. I was looking out for them, looking out for them, looking out for them, and then I said, ‘oh there they are,’ and it was just like we’ve always been brother and sister, yeah.

That evening we chatted for about two hours and then of course Maureen had arranged for the visit to mum and yeah it was a beautiful room and there she was in the chair looking beautiful, but fast asleep. We got a chair either side and Maureen said, ‘mum, mum, Rose Mary’s here, Rose Mary’s here. So, I went to hold her hand, she gripped my hand for an hour and Maureen said, ‘I’ve never known her to do that,’ it was white, she gripped it, but she still had her eyes closed and god, Maureen was saying, ‘mum Rose Mary’s here, Rose Mary’s here. She kept on saying it over and over and I think after about an hour the eyes fluttered and I said, ‘Oh she’s waking up a little bit.’ So, I said to my sister, I said, ‘will you sing a song with her?’ So, there’s Maureen singing to her and then I could see her joining in, oh it was just priceless. Never thought I’d be there listening to my mother sing.

Did you get the feeling that she knew who you were?

I do, I think on some level, I mean that gripping of my hand, because Maureen said she’s never done that with her, but she just held on.

What really comes across is just how much you’ve just been kind of enveloped into the family, just really taken into the family.

From the time we were there we were taken from that house, this house, tea here. Every single member of the family, they were just wonderful, absolutely wonderful, and one of the lovely things was, one of Bridget’s grandson’s, lovely lad, and he said, to me, she walks like nanny, and I thought, that is the most loveliest thing you could have said.

It sounds like you’ve had some really wonderful moments over the last year, but I know it must have been really bittersweet because your mum was in the later stages of dementia and I know that really sadly she passed away, didn’t she?

Up to September Maureen was saying, ‘oh mum’s in fine form, she’s fine.’  Then October Maureen sent me a picture and I thought, ‘oh.’ And then she said, ‘they’ve got mum in bed with a white cover, they’ve got a candle burning and flowers.’ So, it looked like they were sort of preparing, and the priest had been in a couple of times and that sort of thing, and I thought, ‘ah.’ And, oh Turi, I woke up at 4:30 on the day she died, and I thought, ‘she’s gone,’ and then I got a text to say, she’s gone at 4:30. Yeah, they were at the bedside and yeah. So, she passed away peacefully, god bless her.

And having met you.

Yeah, and that’s the thing, I don’t feel…. she’s past but, God, how lucky I have been to have met her and I kissed her and heard her sing and yeah, I’m blessed.

Margaret thank you so much for chatting to me today, it has been such a treat to see you again and catch up.

Thank you Turi.

The Genetic Analysis of King Richard III – Professor Turi King

So many people ask me about the genetic analysis in the Richard III case, so I thought I would do a little podcast about it.

I think to start with is that I don’t think that many people realise how intense this project was: It was working stupidly long hours, under difficult conditions and under really intense pressure.

It took two years of work but in two parts and this is because a film crew had been brought in and they wanted the results to fit their schedule, not the scientific one, and I’ll chat about that later. And not only did it involve dealing with the inevitable politics around the case, there was the really intense media and public interest and with it came literally thousands and I mean thousands of emails from people, mostly from people saying they thought they were related to Richard III, but not a small amount from people threatening various things, including one from someone who repeatedly emailed to say that they would sue me if I didn’t give them the results personally, rather than publish in a scientific journal, as is the appropriate route to go.

Alongside this was the double testing on everything in multiple locations, having to design new experiments because they hadn’t been done before, all knowing there would be intense scrutiny of everything that was going to be published both by the scientific community and others and all the while knowing that what hung on this was the identification of a former King of England and when and where he would be reinterred.

So, let’s start the beginning. I was first brought on to the Richard III project in the summer of 2011 by Richard Buckley. So, he was the director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and has well over 30 years of experience excavating in Leicester. He’d heard about me and my slightly unusual background. So, I did archaeology in Canada and Greece and the U.K. before I went on to read archaeology and anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and then I moved into genetics at the University of Leicester.

So, I was lucky enough to have Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, who invented DNA fingerprinting on my PhD panel, many years previous. So, Richard asked if I wanted to be involved in this project and so I was the first person to join the University of Leicester team after Richard Buckley. Richard also gave my number to Philippa Langley. So, Philippa was from the Richard III Society, and it was she who had first approached him about working in partnership on an excavation. She, needless to say, had a lot of expertise around Richard III himself, but not around archaeology or genetics. So, this is where we at the University could add expertise and the vast majority of the funding to the project.

In addition to this, as the Friary where Richard III was known to have been buried was land now owned by the council, and also privately owned, in order for the excavation to be able to proceed, there needed to be what’s known as a written scheme of excavation, that had to be presented to the City Archaeologist and permission granted by the landowners. So, it was Richard Buckley who prepared all that and submitted it as part of putting the University’s part of the project together.

Now the idea was that if during the course of the excavation we came across the remains of an individual that could be a candidate, for being Richard III, then I would lead the genetic analysis for the project. So, I spent a lot of time talking to Philippa about how the University of Leicester Archaeological Services could do the excavation under the right conditions, known as clean conditions, and how the genetic analysis could be carried out. And I also did some filming with a television company for her in the summer of 2011. She had brought them in because she was hoping to do a television programme about the excavation, and she needed me to talk on camera about how the genetics could be done. So, that she could secure a production team and a commission.

So, I think it’s really important to point out here that the University paid for the majority of the excavation and all of the post-excavation identification work. Including, our salaries, they had to pull some of us off of other projects and backfill our posts, as well as all of the costs of the research. What the Richard III Society did do, was they commissioned a desk-based study of the site, which gave the history and included where the likely location of the Friary was, based on previous evidence from various sources, most of which was very well known.

Phil Stone who was Chair of the Richard III Society, until he sadly passed away in 2020, paid for the ground penetrating radar himself, through the Society. The Richard III Society then contributed some of the money for the excavation itself, but nothing towards the post-excavation and identification research itself, and certainly not our salaries, that was covered by the University of Leicester. So, we weren’t commissioned for this, the University entered into it as a partnership.

So, my role would cover two main areas. As this was going to potentially involve DNA work, trying to retrieve DNA from ancient remains, I was the lead on how we could excavate under what’s known as clean conditions. Now this is because after death our DNA degrades and breaks down and becomes very damaged, until there’s no DNA left to be able to look at or sequence. I would say kind of think of it as a book. So, as the DNA starts to break down you might still be able to read some of the pages and as it breaks down even further you might still be able to read some of the paragraphs and eventually it gets to the point where it’s broken down so far, there is nothing left to read. If you handle or breathe on the remains, then you contaminate it with lots of your own DNA, which can swamp out the signal of any DNA that might be left in the remains.

So, best practice is to work to minimise contamination of the remains with DNA from any one of us on the team, starting from the excavation from day one. So, excavation of any candidate remains would need to be done with us archaeologists wearing gloves, face mask, suit, to protect the remains as much as possible from our own DNA. So, that’s why you see pictures of me and Jo Appleby, our lovely Osteologist, in what looks like CSI gear on the excavation, and anyone involved in the project gave a DNA sample, so I had a record of those to rule out any contamination.

Now, the second bit of my role was carrying out the genetic analysis on any putative remains of Richard III, to see if the genetic data was consistent with these being his remains. Essentially, what is done, in a case like this, is the DNA from the putative remains of Richard III, would be compared against a known relative. Now then, this could have been someone like a close relative, but that would involve getting your mitts on someone else’s remains as well, which might mean exhuming them. Something which is quite rightfully not something you do lightly, and you need permission to do so.

Secondly, the issue of DNA degradation still applies, after you’ve gone through the process of exhuming remains, there may not be any DNA left to analyse. So, the alternative is to use a living relative, bearing in mind that Richard III left no known living descendants. Now there’s something quite important here. Because of how our DNA is inherited not just any old relative would do. So, our DNA is a complex mixture of that of just some of our many ancestors. So, given the number of generations since Richard III, I had to concentrate on using two sections of our DNA that are passed down in a really simple way, Mitochondrial DNA, and the Y chromosome.

So, let’s have a look at these a little bit more closely. Okay, Mitochondrial DNA is a small circular piece of DNA and it’s in the egg. So, an egg gets fertilised by a sperm and then this starts dividing and each time the cell divides, copies of the Mitochondrial DNA are also made. So, the Mitochondrial DNA that you have is yours, but the starting template was given to you by your Mum. So, Richard III would have received his Mitochondrial DNA type from his mother, who would also have passed it down to all of her children, boys, and girls. So, all of Richard’s brothers and sisters should have the same Mitochondrial DNA type and as it’s passed down in the egg, none of his brothers could pass it on, but any of Richard’s sisters, if they had children, they would also pass it on to their children, and so on.

Now then, as the DNA is copied, for example, to a cell that’s going to be a sperm or an egg cell, it can be a perfect copy, or it can get a little typo in it. Now these typos are known as mutations, but we know how these work, so we can take them into account. So, his female line relatives should have an identical or near identical version of Mitochondrial DNA as him.

It’s important to say that no one else has Richard’s DNA, he has his own DNA, everyone has their own DNA, which is unique to them, but you can expect relatives to have sections of DNA that are in common with one another, because of that shared ancestry. So, let’s have a look at the Y chromosome. So, the Y chromosome has on it, putting it really simply, the gene that sends the fetus down the path to becoming a boy. So, only men have it and they pass it down to their sons only. So, it travels just down the male line. So, same thing, no one will have Richard’s DNA here either, but if they’re a male line relative, then they should have identical or a near identical version of the Y chromosome that he has.

Okay, so now that we’ve got DNA inheritance out of the way, where do we find these relatives then to use as comparators? Okay, Philippa did tell me that a fellow Ricardian, John Ashdown-Hill, had identified a woman who he thought was descended from Richard III’s eldest sister Anne of York. This was Joy Ibsen, who colleagues of John Ashdown-Hill in Canada, had tracked down a few years previously. She had done a DNA test with a testing company all those years ago, but it was really low-resolution testing and I would need another sample to be able to do the tests at the proper resolution for this study.

Now, Joy sadly passed away several years ago, but obviously she would have passed down her Mitochondrial DNA type to her children, one of whom, Michael, was living in London. Now, this next bit of the project was really critical. If I’m going to compare the DNA from any remains with a known relative of Richard III, to see if there’s a match, then I have to be certain that the person I’m comparing the DNA from the remains to, is definitely a relative and related in the way that we think they are.

So, I say it’s like a puzzle of two halves, we have to have one side of the puzzle nailed down, as being correct, and then see if the other half of the puzzle fits. So, I chatted to John about the family tree that he’d come up with and he directed me to read his book and a paper that he’d written, but it became clear from reading those, and he was the first to admit this, that his grasp of the genetics came from reading a popular science book. So, there were some scientific errors in what he was writing, but that’s fine for the sort of articles he was writing, which were history ones in non-peer-reviewed journals. And what was great about this project was that everyone brought their own area of expertise to the party. His work on the history of Richard III was extensive, far more than I knew, and I could bring my genetics expertise to the project. But the real issue was that in none of his articles or books did he give the sources for the family tree, which he laid out, and it’s a well-known saying in the genealogy world, that genealogy without documentation, is mythology. So, we really needed to double check this tree and make sure that it was correct.

So, this is where Kevin Schürer came in, working with David Annal, who is former Principal Family History Specialist at the National Archives, Maurice Bierbrier, a Canadian like me, who used to be an Assistant Keeper at the British Museum and Bob Matthews of the Settlers Museum in New Zealand. So, they worked to dig out every piece of documentary evidence to prove that this family tree was correct. Bob came in because while he was doing this what I really wanted to know was could we find anybody else, because it helps to build the case. If you have a couple of people from the tree who are related through the female line on paper, and they both have the same Mitochondrial DNA type, then that is giving you confidence in that family tree being correct.

So, they also found a second female line descendant of Anne of York, this was Wendy Duldig, whose family had emigrated to New Zealand some generations previous. So, Kevin had been given this name and so we were in his office, and we put it into google, like you do, and on one of the pages was a phone number, but it was an old page, so we wondered if it would still be valid. Kevin was off to a meeting, so I said I would grab a coffee on the way back to my office and just try it. So, when I first ring, she’s actually apparently in the bath, so I leave it for an hour or so and try again, and I get this lovely lady who I go, hi my name is Turi King and I’m from the University of Leicester and you may have heard that we’ve recently been doing an excavation and we think we might have found the remains of Richard III. Now, I’m doing the genetic analysis and we need someone who is related in a particular way to him, so we can compare the DNA to see if it’s a match and from our research we think you’re one of these people. And the first thing she said to me is, am I on the radio? Is this a crank call? which got me laughing because seeing it from her point of view it’s a pretty unusual request for someone to receive of a morning.

So, I talked Wendy threw it all and she said she would think about it, and I said I would have Kevin give her a ring to talk her through what the team had found. So, then Kevin rings her and she eventually kindly takes part. Incidentally, I love her surname Duldig, because it was anything but a dull dig that we had been on and the other thing was that at the time she wanted to remain anonymous, so only Kevin and I knew who she was.

So, I’ve been working on the Y chromosome and genetic genealogy for well over 20 years and I wanted to look at the Y chromosome lineage as well. So, this would mean finding male line relatives. This was actually pretty straightforward to do, with Richard being descended from a noble family. So, this is where Kevin went through Burke’s Peerage, because there was something important here to consider. So, the Y chromosome is passed down through the male line and so that means that a man has the Y chromosome of his biological father, who may not be the father that was recorded. So, it was really important for me not to be testing fathers and sons or closely related individuals because that’s essentially paternity testing. So, I only wanted people who were related no closer than second cousin and in the end, we decided to go for five living male line descendants of Henry Somerset the 5th Duke of Beaufort, who was born in the 17th century.

So, all told I had 7 living relatives to test. Two of these were from the female line side of things, to go for Mitochondrial DNA testing and the remaining 5 were from the male line side of things, for Y chromosome testing.

In terms of Mitochondrial DNA, it was DNA sequencing of the entire Mitochondrial Genome. In terms of the Y chromosome, it was a case of doing two different things, one was a version of DNA Fingerprinting, but just on the Y chromosome and the other was looking at little sections of DNA sequence on the Y chromosome. And you do the same thing for both the modern DNA and the ancient DNA.

So, doing the modern DNA analysis is really straightforward, you just get a DNA sample and do the DNA testing. The ancient DNA work I was going to be doing the same thing but required a slightly different approach. As I said before, the DNA in ancient remains is in tiny amounts, it’s damaged and it’s in tiny fragments, so you have to be really careful not to contaminate it. And this was where the designing of experiments came in, because though the basis of doing these experiments was standard, designing them to fit for the ancient DNA, which was in tiny fragments, hadn’t been done for the bits of DNA that I wanted to look at. So, this meant me designing several new assays, testing them in modern DNA and then using them on the ancient remains.

So, you have to do this work in what’s known as a clean lab. So, this is where you work to certain protocols to minimise contamination. So, you work in the full CSI type gear, and you keep the lab ultra clean. Now to this day we don’t have clean labs at the University of Leicester and with this sort of high-profile project you always replicate your results in two separate labs, to make sure you’re getting the same results in both labs. So, I went and did the work in the labs at the University of York, in the lab of Michi Hofreiter, with Gloria Gonzalez Fortes. And also, in the lab of Patricia Balaresque with Laura Tonasso. And they will tell you I spent very long hours working in those labs on this project, because in the first instance I was working to a deadline for the initial results. In fact, I was working right up to the wire for those results because Philippa had brought in that television company and they wanted us to announce the results to fit their television schedule. So, in order to be able to do this for what they wanted, I just concentrated on a very small, very variable region of the Mitochondrial DNA, that though it would not be good enough to publish a scientific paper, it would give a good idea if this was going to be a match. And then what I could do was do the bulk of the analysis once the announcement was out of the way.

And I can’t tell you how odd that felt being a scientist. So, normally what happens is that you do the entire project from start to finish, you write it up, you send it to a journal for publication, the journal then sends that out for peer review. So, this is where other scientists read the work, ensure the science has been done properly and it is publishable and so on. And they can come back with basically three main decisions, reject, the paper isn’t good enough, second, okay this looks okay but the team needs to do more experiments or changes first, or finally, yes, this looks great publish it. So, to stand up and give the results without going through this process was going against everything that you normally do as a scientist. It also meant I had scientific colleagues, not realising the background to this, questioning me and my science, which was pretty hard to take. I spent a lot of time explaining to them that the reason I had done this was because of the odd nature of the project and that there was more to come.

So, the results I gave on February the 4th 2013 were preliminary results, but I knew that to publish it would require a lot more work. So, cue me spending many hours in the ancient DNA lab, designing assays, running experiments and so on, to get the full Mitochondrial DNA data and the Y chromosome data. And the other thing I did was have colleagues confirm all of my work on the modern DNA side as well. Basically, I wasn’t going to take any chances with this.

So ultimately the results came down to this, there was a perfect Mitochondrial DNA match between Michael Ibsen and the skeletal remains. There was a single Mitochondrial DNA difference between Wendy and Michael and the skeletal remains. However, it was one of the faster mutating sites of Mitochondrial DNA and we could take that into account.

Now the Y chromosome threw up something interesting, but not at all surprising from my point of view. There wasn’t a DNA match. Now this could easily be down to what we term a false paternity, so that’s where the biological father is not the recorded father, and it can be reasons such as an unrecorded adoption or one man’s child being passed off as that of another. It’s known to happen at about 1-2% per generation. Now there’s been 19 generations between Richard III, you go up to Edward III and then down the tree to Henry Somerset, who is the common ancestor of the five men who I tested. Now that’s plenty of time for at least one, if not more false paternity events to take place, it was actually a bit more complicated than that. So, there must have been at least two false paternities and one of them was recent. So, one of the five men I tested did not match the other four and on going to speak to the family it turned out that they had been aware of a family story, that an ancestor’s child was not his biological child. They just hadn’t mentioned it. Still to be on the safe side I got another DNA sample and I repeated it and had a colleague do it blind. Now the other four were not identical to one another, but we know about how mutations occur, and the mutations we found were as you’d expect, given how they’re related. So, this gave us a Y chromosome type of Henry Somerset, who was their common ancestor. Now, that did not match Richard III, but as I say, that’s not unexpected.

Now I have to preface this strongly with the fact that we don’t know where in these 19 generations that a false paternity or even false paternities occurred, but what was interesting was that some of the people in those 19 generations were part of the monarchy at the time, and so if it happened in any of those links in the chain, that would be interesting in terms of the historical monarchy.

So, Edward III forms the top of the genealogical tree, from him descends the male line lineage leading to Edward IV and Richard III and if it happened in there then that could affect the Yorkist Plantagenet Kings. Descending the other way from Edward III you have the male line lineage leading to Henry Somerset, that passes through John of Gaunt, the father of Henry IV and leading to the Lancastrian Plantagenet Kings of Henry V and Henry VI. John of Gaunt’s illegitimate son, John Beaufort, was the great grandfather of Henry VII and the Tudor dynasty of Kings and Queens. So, we put this possibility in the academic paper just saying that it was an interesting finding.

So, for me as a scientist, the big thing when we published the paper was that it had been a huge amount of work and I was very proud of the science. But the main thing the press were interested in was this false paternity and should Queen Elizabeth be on the throne. So, that was a bit mortifying. I spent a lot of time telling people to, you know, just back up a bit, we don’t know where the false paternity or more than one had taken place, and even if it was in those couple of generations, and statistically it was more likely to be elsewhere in the tree than just those two generations out of the 19, it would not affect the modern monarchy. First of all, Henry Tudor descended from a line that was banned from ever taking the throne. So, Henry Tudor had taken the throne by conquest. Secondly, the throne doesn’t pass down in a straight line from Henry Tudor to Elizabeth II, there are plenty of detours along the way. So, it’s not relevant to our Queen’s reign at all. Still, that was what I spent most of my time explaining to the press about.

Now the final thing was to carry out the statistical analysis and this was the all-important probability that these were the remains of King Richard III. And the way we did this was the same way as a missing person’s case is done. Richard III is missing, last seen being buried in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars in Leicester. So, you have a list of things that you’re looking for to help identify the remains, just as if someone goes missing you list, where they were last seen in a certain location, they have this appearance and so on. Well for Richard the list was, he was male, he was age 32 when he died, he died in 1485, we know he died in battle, he may have had some sort of spinal abnormality, as famously portrayed by Shakespeare, but he was writing a long time after Richard’s death, so you really have to look at contemporary descriptions of Richard’s appearance, of which there are two. So, one doesn’t mention anything about a spinal abnormality but does say he’s got slender arms and thighs, and a great heart. The other mentions that he had one shoulder higher than the other, so possibly a spinal abnormality. We know he was high status, and we know who he’s related to, so we can do DNA analysis.

So, let’s have a look at the evidence we could bring to bear on this and could bring to the statistical analysis. One, the skeleton was male, we know Richard was a boy and we could tell that the skeleton was male from the bones, and I could also do a DNA test to check as well, which I did. Now, we can tell from the bones that this person’s age at death was around 30 to 34 years old, Richard died when he was 32. Three, the model radiocarbon dates came back as 1456 to 1530, we know that Richard died in 1485. This skeleton had battle injuries, that’s our number four, and we know that Richard died in battle. Number five the skeleton had scoliosis of the spine and we know from those contemporary sources, or at least one, that he may have had a spinal abnormality. Six, the skeleton was found in a high-status part of the church, Richard was high status. Seven, now there was another bit of evidence that we could have brought into this, but we didn’t, now that was the stable isotope analysis, which showed that this person had a high-status diet, but they were buried in a high-status part of the church, so that starts to get circular and it could bias the results, so we actually kept them out. Indeed, the whole time we did this, we kept erring on the side of caution and erring towards it not being Richard. We were always trying to play devil’s advocate. Eight, now the y chromosome data didn’t fit, but that’s fine, you just build the statistics into the case. Nine, finally there was a Mitochondrial Genome DNA match with two living female line relatives, for a rare Mitochondrial DNA type.

So, when you bring all of that together you get what’s known as a likelihood ratio. Which is where it’s, how likely this is Richard III versus someone who by chance, fits all of the criteria but isn’t Richard. And the likelihood ratio is 6.7 million to 1. So, this then translates to a probability of 99.999 to 99.99999% that these are the remains of Richard III.

So, needless to say the evidence was overwhelming that these are the remains of king Richard III and that released him to be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. So, as I said at the beginning, this was the end of two years of huge amounts of work, under really tremendous pressure, not least because so many people hung on these results, to finally reinter a former King of England.

The Princes in the Tower: could scientific analysis help identify the remains in Westminster Abbey?

Are the remains in the urn in Westminster Abbey really those of the Princes in the Tower? And how could scientific analysis help answer this question?

Whenever I give a talk about the Richard III project, easily the most popular question I get asked afterwards is “What about the Princes in the Tower?.” It’s also something I’m regularly asked about by members of the press. So, I thought I’d do a little podcast about how this project could be carried out if permission were ever given to do so.

So, let’s back up a bit. What is this all about?

Okay, so, we have to go back to 1483 and the circumstances surrounding how Richard III came to be king. And I’m going to do this briefly because that in itself is a huge story, so I warn you, I’m NOT going to give you an in-depth account.

Now then, this is all set during the Wars of the Roses, and this was a series of civil wars in the 15th century that saw two branches of the Plantagenet royal dynasty, Lancaster and York, vying for the crown. Richard was from the House of York and his elder brother, Edward, was the Yorkist King, Edward IV. And from the historical records, it appears that Richard and his older brother were quite close despite the 10-year age gap. They certainly went through a lot together.

Now Edward IV caused a political kerfuffle when, a few years into his reign, he married a woman in secret. This was Elizabeth Woodville who was born into a Lancastrian family, she was the widow of a Lancastrian, and already the mother of two. Alongside this, not only had negotiations been going on around Edward IV marrying someone from the European nobility, but Elizabeth’s family was not a noble one and therefore she would not be considered an appropriate partner for a King. Many accounts suggest that there were tensions in the royal court surrounding the Woodville family. This, as Elizabeth’s family gained power through her marriage to the King but that Edward IV, by and large, managed to keep a lid on these tensions whilst he was alive.

Edward and Elizabeth had a number of children including among them, two sons called, just to confuse things further, Edward and Richard.

Now rather unexpectedly Edward IV took seriously ill in the spring of 1483 aged just 40. But he apparently survived long enough to add codicils to his will, including naming his brother Richard as Lord Protector to help rule the country until his 12-year-old son, who was due to become Edward V, grew up. At the time, the young Edward was, as was often the case with princes destined to be king, being mentored by another family member, in this case one of his other uncles, Elizabeth Woodville’s brother, Anthony, Earl Rivers, at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire.

Edward IV died on April 9th, and Richard is at one of his estates in the north of England when he hears of Edward’s death some days later. He writes to Queen Elizabeth assuring her of his fealty to his nephew and then to the council regarding his position as Lord Protector. And this is where things get rather murky, there seems to be a lot of politics going on with many of the Council, especially Edward IV’s best friend, Lord Hastings, being concerned about a Woodville-dominated government. So, while there is no evidence that Richard did not get along with the Woodvilles, they don’t seem to have been particularly close. Lord Hastings writes to Richard and advises him to bring a well-armed retinue to London as soon as possible. In the meantime, the young Edward, Richard’s nephew, is informed of his father’s death and is due to be brought to London for his coronation by Earl Rivers. With them will be Edward V’s half-brother, Sir Richard Grey who was one of Elizabeth Woodville’s sons from her first marriage.

Richard makes an oath of fealty to his nephew as the new king and as he was going to be making his way to London, he contacts Rivers and Grey and suggests they all converge at Northampton on April 29th, before heading into London together for Edward’s coronation, scheduled for May 4th.

Again, here is where things get a bit murky. It seems that Rivers and Grey do not stop in Northampton to wait for Richard and Richard arrives in Northampton to find that they have travelled on to Stoney Stratford, several miles closer to London. Some of Edward’s party, including Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey, head back to Northampton and the following day Richard has them taken prisoner and sent north. Elizabeth Woodville, hearing of this, goes into sanctuary at Westminster with her younger son Richard and her other children.

Richard then accompanies young Edward to London and his coronation is postponed until June 22, Richard is confirmed as Protector and meanwhile, Edward eventually takes up residence in the royal apartments in the Tower of London, the usual place for royal family members to lodge before their coronation.

A number of things now happen very close together. Richard calls a subgroup of the Council together, accuses some of them of plotting against him, including Edward IV’s best friend, Lord Hastings, and has him taken outside and executed without trial and a handful of others are imprisoned.

A few days after that, a number of counsellors go to see Elizabeth Woodville in sanctuary and Edward’s younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, aged about 9, comes out of sanctuary and joins Edward in the royal apartments in the Tower. This to keep him company and to be with him for the coronation. The coronation of Edward is then put back to November.

On the day that Edward was due to be crowned, June 22, crowds gather to hear a sermon by a popular theologian, Ralph Shaw, who was the brother of the mayor of London, he proclaimed that Edward IV was illegitimate. As well as this, at this time, there are claims that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville also wasn’t legitimate, so their children didn’t have a claim to the throne.

Now this was not new. The story that Edward IV was illegitimate, was that Edward and Richard’s mum had had a relationship with an English archer and that Edward was the result of that. This was a rumour that not only circulated in this country but was also well known in Europe for many years. The other was that Edward IV had already been pre-contracted in marriage to a woman called Lady Eleanor Butler, a pre-contract in those days precluded marriage to another person and meant that his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was illegitimate and therefore none of their children could make claim to the throne.

Allies of Richard then began to make the case for him as the rightful heir to the throne and eventually, high ranking officials and noblemen draw up a petition asking him to take the crown. Richard is crowned king on July 6, 1483, becoming Richard III.

The two Princes are seen playing in the grounds of the Tower of London, which was a royal residence at the time. And then there are no reported sightings of them after the summer of 1483. There are rumours as to what happened to them, including many that one or both of the Princes were spirited away to safety, the younger of them surviving to make a claim to the throne in adulthood. And another rumour is that they were murdered, with a number of people in the frame, including Richard III. But it’s from these events that they have earned the moniker, The Princes in the Tower.

Fast forward to 1674 and there are renovations going on at the Tower of London and workmen reputedly find some skeletons which, according to some reports, they lob onto the spoil heap until someone decides they must be the Princes and collects them up. Four years after this, on the orders of King Charles II, the bones are placed into an urn and interred in the wall of the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

It’s important to point out that these are not the only skeletons found in the tower of London, let alone that century. There’s reports of some remains, possibly being those of one of the boys, being found in a turret, but these are eventually thought to be those of an ape that was part of the royal menagerie. Another set, again, thought to be the boys, were apparently found in a walled-up chamber in the early part of that century.

So, let’s fast-forward again to 1933 and the bones in the urn are disinterred and examined by Lawrence Tanner, Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian of Westminster Abbey, with William Wright a renowned anatomist and three x President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland and assisted by Dr George Northcroft, an ex-President of the British Dental Association and a leading authority on the dentition of children.

If you read this report, you’ll see that they do a long introduction to history of the case, pretty much convinced that the Princes were murdered by Richard III, and then start their analysis section. By page two of this section, they start to refer to the bones as being those of Edward V and his younger brother Richard, clearly biased as to the result before they’ve even completed the study. As such, it’s not a rigorous scientific study as would be conducted these days. And to be fair to them, they simply didn’t have the technology that’s available to us today.

So, if someone were to do a study today to answer the research question, are these the remains of the Princes in the Tower, what analysis could be done to help answer that question.

There are three things here at the outset.

The first thing is these are human remains and some of the analysis is destructive. Therefore, I think it would be imperative to take it step by step to minimise any such analysis and only proceed to the point necessary to answer the question.

The second is that this would be an academic research project, with a view to the results being published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. Having done the Richard III project and seen how that could go, I think it would be hugely important to make sure the project is not carried out in a sensationalist way. Indeed, I personally would not want a big press release to say the project was happening at the outset as that, I found, simply led to a bit of a press frenzy regarding not only the research itself but when any results would be announced, putting unnecessary pressure onto the whole thing. The importance here is to do a proper measured, holistic, scientific study and there shouldn’t be any media agenda to that. It would need to be properly documented, as all research needs to be, and that could include footage to form a documentary, but I would be concerned if the documentary, and not the research project, was the main thrust of the whole thing.

The final thing is that the analysis could only ever tell us if the evidence was consistent with these being the remains of the Princes. It’s likely it would not tell us if they were murdered (though if they are the Princes then they’ve obviously met with a premature end) and, if so, who killed them?

Getting all this out of the way, what could be done.

Well, this breaks down into a number of steps and after each step an assessment would be made as to whether to proceed further.

The first step is to do thorough osteological analysis. We know the boys were thought to be around aged 12 and 9 when they were supposedly done away with. Does the skeletal analysis fit this? Indeed, it’s known that these are not complete skeletons and that the bones were retrieved from a spoil heap, so it would be important to start by determining if these are the remains of two individuals or more.

Sexing skeletal remains of children is notoriously difficult but osteological analysis would help to determine an age range of the age of death. To do this we would want to look at the at the developmental state of the teeth and bones. For example, teeth tend to erupt in a fairly regular and known sequence within certain age ranges. Examination of the measurements and development of the bones is also really useful for determining an age-range for age of death. It would also be important to compare measurements of the bones and analysis of the teeth with datasets from a similar time period and social status, if at all possible.

To determine what time period the remains are from we need radiocarbon dating and this is the first piece of destructive analysis. However, it is a fairly crucial analysis as it would tell us if these remains are even from the right time period. If the radiocarbon dates come back as being from the Roman or Anglo-Saxon period for example, then that answers the question and there is no need to carry out any further destructive analysis to answer the research question. The project stops right there. If the radiocarbon dates don’t fit, it’s not the Princes.

It’s important to point out that radiocarbon dating doesn’t give a precise date, it gives a date range. So, radiocarbon dating is not something that could be used to determine a precise date of death and thereby be used as evidence one way or the other in favour of whether the Princes died in the reign of Richard III or Henry Tudor, for example.

A full analysis of the bones using modern forensic techniques, to try to determine cause of death could be carried out. This would include examining the bones under direct light, as well as multispectral illumination, as well as whole body post-mortem CT scanning. Any injuries or areas of interest could then be examined further with micro-CT scanning.

If the dates were consistent with them being from the right time period, then there are other bits of analysis, both destructive, so would need to be minimised, that could help answer the question as to whether these are the remains of the Princes.

One of these is stable isotope analysis. Putting it simply, this looks at different forms or isotopes of the same element such as carbon or nitrogen for example. The different isotopes of carbon and nitrogen can tell us about a person’s diet and therefore whether or not they seem to have a diet that suggests higher status. Oxygen and strontium isotopes give an indication of where someone has lived and so could be cross-referenced against the historical documentation about where the two princes lived, to see if these two datasets are consistent with one another.

Finally, genetic analysis could be carried out. And of course, this would rely on the DNA being of sufficient quality in order to carry out the research.

There’s a few things that could be done. The first is helping with sexing the skeletons by looking at the sex chromosomes. Females have two copies of what’s known as the X chromosome, whereas males have one X and a Y chromosome.

Again, if this analysis showed they were definitely female, there is no need to continue further.

If they looked to be genetically male, we could then look to see if the genetic data is consistent with these remains being the nephews of King Richard III. This could be done in two ways, by comparing the DNA from the skeletons with the DNA sequence of King Richard III which is already known. The first way is using the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is passed down through the male line and so Richard III and Edward IV would have inherited the same Y chromosome type from their father and Edward IV would have then passed it down to his sons, Richard III’s nephews. So, the Y chromosome type from the remains in the urn should match that of Richard III.

What about that pesky rumour about Edward being illegitimate? Well, we can get around that using DNA from the rest of the chromosomes. Say Edward IV really was Richard III’s full brother, then we would expect that Richard will share about ~25% DNA in common between him and each of the Princes.

If Richard III and Edward IV were half-brothers, just sharing a mum and not a dad, then the Princes would have a different Y chromosome type, but Richard would share about ~12.5% of his DNA in common with the Princes.

Another segment of DNA that could be analysed is mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down by a mother to her children. So, by comparing the mitochondrial DNA from the remains in the urn, with a female-line relative of Elizabeth Woodville, the Princes mother, to look for a match.

Alongside this, analysis of the DNA could throw up information as to a likely cause of death, for example if Yersinia pestis, the bacteria which causes the plague, is detected.

Finally, a statistical analysis, similar to what we carried out with Richard III, could be used to put a statistical number on the likelihood of these being the remains of the Princes in the Tower.

Alongside this, it would be hugely important to compile as detailed and comprehensive digital record as possible, of both the research itself and the conclusions. So, all the CT scans, measurements, DNA sequences and so on. This would also include a video record and detailed photography, including macro photography of areas of interest on the remains. Not only is this part of good research practice and scientific study, making it publicly available allows re- or further analysis by other researchers and minimises the likelihood of anyone making requests to open the urn again in future.

The outcome of this would be of great interest, both to historians and many of the general public. It’s regularly voted as one of the history’s greatest mysteries. It’s safe to say that a research project such as this would answer some questions but not all. Indeed, it could raise new questions.

It could well be that the radiocarbon dates at the outset show that these cannot be the Princes and therefore the research project ends there and then. It would then need to be decided whether the remains are returned to Westminster Abbey or reinterred elsewhere. It does tell us though that we still don’t know what happened to the Princes.

Should the analysis show the evidence is consistent with these being the two Princes, then it would make sense to reinter them in the urn in Westminster with the mystery having being solved as to whether-or-not these are the boys. This would tell us then, that the Princes did meet with a premature end. It may not, however, likely tell us how and certainly not by whose hand. That is a mystery that would still need to be solved.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys and the discovery of DNA Fingerprinting

On the morning of Monday September 10th, 1984, an as yet little-known scientist was looking at a result of an experiment, he’d set running the week previous. He was trying to look at genetic variation between individuals as a way of looking at how diseases might run in families. But what he was about discover, was a technique that would change the world.

The discovery of DNA Fingerprinting was a glorious accident, and nobody believes me, and that was a moment that changed my life. We had a technician from the department and her mother and father. We could see how we could tell the 3 apart and how the technicians DNA fingerprint seemed to be a composite of part of the mothers and fathers. So, the moment of discovery, the first 30 seconds were perplexity, this looks like a complicated mess don’t know what’s going on here. Then the penny dropped, we suddenly realised, oh wait a minute, this is potentially a method for biological based or DNA based biological identification.

So, this was revolutionary. I mean really revolutionary in genetics. Up until this point, we knew that there must be genetic variation but nothing that could actually tell people apart from one another just using their DNA. Alec and his team, and indeed his wife, Sue, quickly saw what the implications were and its potential use in the wider world. And one of those uses was forensics. Could it be used to identify someone from the sorts of samples you would find at a crime scene.

I brainstormed with my technician, that was Vicki Wilson who was helping with this work, and we came up with a list of things that maybe you could use this for. So, we could see Forensics, you know, identifying blood stains at the scenes of crime, identifying rapists from semen recovered from victims. The other question of course for Forensics is where the DNA actually survives in old blood samples, and on that very first day, we were sufficiently alive to that question, that I was running around the lab sticking pins in my finger and leaving blood drops all over the place, making up mock crime scenes. The answer is yes, you can get DNA out of a blood spot, most certainly.

It worked. You could get DNA from blood even after it had been on the lab bench for a few days. But Alec thought it’s use for forensic cases would be years away.

We thought at the beginning we could see the applications, but we thought, for example in criminal investigations DNA would be the technology absolutely of last resort. So, you go to a crime scene, you do all your other tests and when everything has failed miserably, then out of desperation you wheel in DNA. And so, I thought it would be a technology of last resort, used in very few criminal investigations, completely wrong.

But it’s first use in a forensic case was only around 2 years away. And it was local. Two young girls had been raped and murdered, three years apart, in 1983 and 1986 in Enderby and Narborough, two villages just outside Leicester. The modus operandi suggested it was the same individual and a young man, Richard Buckland, had confessed to the killing in the second case, that of Dawn Ashworth, but staunchly stood by his story that he hadn’t killed Lynda Mann in 1983.

David Baker was the head of Leicestershire CID and leading the investigation at the time and was stumped. The crimes looked linked, surely Richard had also committed the first crime.

David had heard about Alec’s discovery when it hit the news the year previous and he had a brainwave. If DNA could identify an individual, could it show that Richard Buckland had committed both murders.

I was the Head of CID at that particular time and in charge of the inquiry into the death of Linda Mann, and then subsequently that of Dawn Ashworth. And during the Dawn Ashworth inquiry a young man came into frame, and he was making certain admissions into the death of Dawn Ashworth but not Linda Mann, and we felt that both murders were connected.

He was questioned in respect of Linda Mann and denied all knowledge of it, and it was then that I recalled reading an article on DNA in the Leicester Mercury, with the work of Sir Alec Jeffreys.

Sir Alec takes up the story.

So, the police had heard of our DNA work through the press, and wondered whether DNA could help, first to confirm the guilt of this man, with respect to the second murder, but more important to try and tie him into the first.

So, we took that on with the full expectation of getting absolutely nothing, we’d never attempted anything like this before. So, we received the very intimate forensic samples, which I have to say that was chilling, that was a moment I found very uncomfortable, so, you know, doing a paternity case is one thing, handling samples from a murder scene is something very different.

So, we got DNA profiles from semen recovered from both of those victims. So, first question is do you get the same profile from both victims? Answer, yes. They had indeed been raped and presumably murdered by the same man. Was the young man, who confessed to the second murder, was he guilty? Well, if you looked at his DNA profile it’s a complete mismatch.

So, that young man was then released and I’m pretty sure without DNA and given his confession and circumstantial evidence, he probably would have gone to jail for the rest of his life. So, the first time DNA was ever used in anger, was not to prove guilt but to prove innocence and that’s a really important point.

So, what the science showed, completely changed the course of the investigation. After releasing Richard Buckland, what next? How to catch the killer before he killed again? Again, it was David who had a brainwave to set up a DNA dragnet to flush out the killer. Alec again:

What then happened was the police decided to completely believe in this arcane new DNA technology. So, they launched locally the world’s first DNA based manhunt, to see if they could flush out the true perpetrator.

David takes up the story.

We thought about using DNA as a test for all the men in the villages of Narborough, Enderby and Littlethorpe. So, we set up a system whereby we would invite all the men voluntarily to come to a centre where we could take samples of their blood and have them blood tested as part and parcel of the inquiry.

But David knew the killer might try to evade the dragnet. So, he had people turn up with something like a passport to help identify them. But still, the killer slipped through the net.

We’d also realised that somebody might try and evade the system. So, we asked them to bring a letter which we sent to them, inviting them for the blood test, together with a means of identification, driving license, passport, photographs. And of course, we realised that if somebody went to those extents then they were letting somebody else into the secret as it were, and we’d be able to come back with the person responsible. And of course, that’s exactly what happened, is that, whilst we were taking samples, Pitchfork arranged for a man named Kelly, who worked with him, to come to the blood centre at Enderby and put himself forward for the test in Pitchfork’s name.

 But, fortunately for us all, Ian Kelly let slip what he’d done. He had stood in for the killer, Colin Pitchfork, a fellow bakery worker who lived in the nearby village of Littlethorpe.

But of course, Kelly couldn’t keep his mouth shut, which was what we expected, and of course he spoke to a young girl. They had a works outing at the Clarendon Arms and during in the evening Kelly mentioned to the company there that he’d taken the blood test for Pitchfork. And it was about a week or 10 days later the young lady, who was privy to the conversation, came and saw a police officer that she knew, and told him of this, and of course immediately we took steps to identify Pitchfork and Kelly and there and then arrested them as soon as we established their identities. And of course, Pitchfork, straightaway he admitted responsibility for both murders when he was arrested.

It must have been quite a moment for the police, after all that hard work.

David Baker again.

Well, it was a relief, I mean there was a lot of pressure on us to find the person responsible for the murders and of course, you know, everybody was looking at you as the person responsible for the inquiry and, you know, everybody was sort of wondering whether or not the DNA would come forward and of course it did.

But at the heart of this were two families left grief-stricken by the loss of their daughters at the hands of Colin Pitchfork. Barbara, Dawns mum, talks about the community spirit and how grateful she was to all those men who took part in the dragnet.

Obviously, thanks have got to be given to everyone that turned up and took the blood testing, to start with, because without them coming forward we wouldn’t have been able to proceed with it.

It really was a combination of dogged police work, the community pulling together and, of course, the science that helped make it possible.  Kath, Lynda’s mum

I got a phone call then from Mr Baker to say we’ve got him, obviously that was because he had persisted with the case and gone to Mr Jeffreys, with his amazing discovery.

This was the first time where DNA fingerprinting proved instrumental in a forensic case. First exonerating someone of crimes they didn’t commit and secondly in convicting the man who had committed them. Colin Pitchfork was handed a life sentence with a minimum of 30 years. The Lord Chief Justice at the time, Lord Lane, said he doubted that he should ever be released.

As it is, he was released on September 1st, 2021, a mere 9 days to the 37th anniversary of when DNA fingerprinting was discovered by Sir Alec all those years ago. If he committed the same crimes today, he would most likely be given what’s known as a whole life order, where the crimes are considered to be so serious, he would never be released from prison.

It’s hard to overstate the importance and significance of Alec’s discovery. For a scientist who thought that his discovery would be a technique of last resort, it has proved to be one of the very first that police turn to in their investigations. Today, forensic DNA databases around the world lead to the resolution of thousands of crimes, bringing some sort of justice for the victims and their families. Scientific discoveries are truly thrilling but in terms of real-world applications, DNA fingerprinting figures as one of the most momentous scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

But let’s give the last words to the mums of the victims, in that very first forensic case where DNA Fingerprinting was used. What has it meant to them?

Kath, Lynda’s mum.

DNA to us, which I do call Linda’s Legacy, because to me it is, it’s all I can think of as being the one good thing to come from it.

And finally, Barbara tells us of the legacy of that case and the science.

Look at all that it’s done since and how it’s been refined and things like that and thank goodness. I look up to the heavens every day and say there we are Dawn we’ve caught another one and helped catch them unknowingly, but indirectly she has.