Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 6 News List

BBC documentary helps crack missing urn case

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

A stranger tomb is hard to imagine. For more than eight years the lost property office of London Underground -- a basement filled with tens of thousands of glasses, gloves, iPods, mobile phones, pushchairs, scarves, schoolbags, toys, umbrellas and wallets -- has hosted a highly incongruous object. An urn containing human ashes.

Like a diligent graveyard caretaker, Ted Batchelor, the lost property supervisor, has done his best to make it a decent resting place. Each December he would wish the remains a merry Christmas, while in his spare time he tried to crack a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Who was the deceased? How had their ashes got lost? And who were the rightful owners?

There was only one clue. A label that said: "W Maile, 5/10/98.'

Batchelor appealed for information in Arena: Underground, a TV documentary shown last month as part of the BBC's Tube Night. It caught the eye of a member of the public, John Fisher, who set about using the telephone and Internet to trace the enigmatic W Maile.

Two days later, he had his man -- and his relatives. Molly Schofield, a pensioner living in Leyland, near Preston, northern England, received a call from Fisher informing her that her father's long lost ashes had been found.

"I went into a flat spin," Molly, 75, recalled. "He said the item about the urn had caught his interest and he'd followed it up and identified my dad's ashes. It was a surprise and a shock and it made me feel a lot better to finally know what happened. My children are delighted."

William Maile, who took part in the Normandy landings during World War II and was a driver at the Potsdam conference, died in September 1998 at the age of 91 and was cremated in Preston.

Molly had fond memories of visiting London with him, so she decided to take his ashes to Westminster Bridge and scatter them on the Thames, where he would go fishing. She took a train south with her daughter and her two grandchildren, placing a bag containing the urn under a pushchair in the luggage compartment.

But when the train reached its destination, the bag and the urn had gone. Molly said: "I was astounded. We felt we're not going to see him again but at least he got to London. On the train two men were talking loudly and giving the impression that they'd just been released from prison. Our thoughts turned to them when we saw the bag had gone. I'd love to have seen their faces when they realized what they'd got. That's caused me some laugh ter over the years."

The bag was abandoned on a tube train and was handed to the London Underground lost property office, which receives up to 1,000 items a day.

Years passed and no one came forward to claim it.

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