Children find woman's head on Arbroath beach

TWO young sisters found the severed head of a woman as they played on a beach today, police said.

The girls made the grim discovery near South Street in the town of Arbroath, in Angus, Scotland, at 10.30am.

A hand has also been recovered from the beach.

A major investigation was launched by police, who are trawling through missing persons files as they try to identify the woman.

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Part of the beach has been cordoned off while a specialist team combs the area.

The sisters, from the Arbroath area, were playing on the beach during their Easter school holidays when they discovered the head.

They immediately went home and told their mother who contacted Tayside Police.

The force said the body parts were being removed and would be subject to further "detailed forensic examination".

A Holmes (Home Office Large and Major Crime Enquiry System) Team was set up to help with the investigation.

The discovery was made shortly after high tide at 10.18am.

Police said they were in "close contact" with the girls' family but they had not requested counselling.

Residents and politicians in the seaside town expressed their shock at the gruesome find.

Patricia Millar, 54, chairwoman of the Royal Burgh of Arbroath Community Council, said: "I was shocked and appalled to hear of this tragedy in our town. This is the kind of thing you hear about in big cities. I never expected it to happen here.

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"My sympathies go out to the two children who made the discovery. It must have been terrible to see such a gruesome thing at such a tender age."

Angus MSP Andrew Welsh, who lives just outside Arbroath, said: "My reaction is one of absolute shock that such an incident should have happened, especially when young children have been involved.

"Clearly the authorities are involved, and the sooner this tragic mystery is cleared up, the better.

"This would be a shock in any area of Scotland, but especially in Arbroath, which is a family, holiday town.

"This incident has come completely out of the blue and it is a hideous situation for these youngsters."

A local woman fish worker, based at nearby Seagate, who did not wish to be named, said: "When I came to work I saw police standing about and then I heard that a head had been found.

"I watched police examine something on the beach further away and then they came closer and began looking at something else."

Another worker, at the Newgate Inn on West Newgate, said: "I spoke to one of the regulars whose house is by the beach.

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"He's been taking his daughters out because there's lots of police and things at the scene."

This afternoon, officers wearing white protective suits, face masks and blue gloves worked next to what appeared to be a large blue and silver tarpaulin lying on the beach.

Later the tarpaulin was lifted as the team prepared to move the body parts.

A Tayside Police spokeswoman said: "Tayside Police has cordoned off a section of beach at Arbroath in Angus today after the apparent discovery of human body parts.

"Officers attended at a stretch of foreshore near to South Street shortly after 10.30am after the grim discovery was made by children playing on the beach.

"They found what appears to be the head of a woman concealed in a plastic bag. A hand has also been recovered from the beach.

"It is understood that they belong to a woman."

"Scenes of crime officers are in attendance and an extensive search of the beachfront is continuing at this time."

The beach is popular with dog walkers and local children.

The officer leading the investigation said the forensic examinations to follow would be "fairly painstaking".

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Detective Chief Inspector Graham McMillan said recent heavy rains in the area made it difficult to tell how long – if at all – the head had been in the water.

But he said inquiries would be thorough, with investigations continuing into the night.

He said: "We will shortly be conducting a more detailed examination of the body part which will be a fairly painstaking process.

"Over the next few hours we will be conducting house-to-house inquiries and we would appeal to anyone who walks their dog in the area, works here or comes to socialise, to get in touch."

He said the children who found the remains were "fairly upset" and were being cared for by their parents at home.

Mr McMillan added that there was no missing person locally that would "fit the criteria we are looking for".