The husband of missing Tina Satchwell insists he did not kill his wife as gardaí search woodland in the hope of solving the mystery of her disappearance.
Richard Satchwell also said he has never been in the woods in East Cork at the centre of the search and still holds out hope that his wife, 46, who has been missing for almost a year, will return home.
“I could never harm my wife, never. And everybody who knows us knows that,” he told TV3.
“I’m hoping that Tina is out there and that she’s going to get in touch. I don’t even want to go down the road of thinking otherwise because I won’t be able to cope.
“My wife is there somewhere, and I do believe she’s going to turn up and it will all be able to be put to bed.”
It emerged last night that a person matching Ms Satchwell’s description is believed to have been seen with another individual at Mitchel’s Wood, at Bridgetown, Castlemartyr.
A “credible witness” is understood to have told investigating gardaí the circumstances were suspicious.
Gardaí declined to comment on what led them to target the woods for an extensive search.
However, it is understood they are acting on information from at least one credible source, possibly more, which was analysed in the last month.
During a media briefing at the woods yesterday, Supt Colm Noonan of Midleton Garda Station confirmed that the area is being searched for evidence relating to Ms Satchwell’s disappearance, and he appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area last March to come forward.
He said detectives working have followed more than 220 separate lines of inquiry, including liaison with colleagues internationally and with Interpol, and that the search operation was mounted as a result of those enquiries.
“This [the search] is as part of an open and ongoing investigation and I’m not going to comment on the specifics other than to say it is part of our investigation,” said Supt Noonan.
The Coillte-managed 40-acre woodland, which is popular with local walkers, is about 30km east of Cork City and just off the N25 Cork to Waterford Rd.
It is about 20km from Youghal’s Grattan St, where Ms Satchwell lived with Richard. He reported her missing on March 24, 2017, and told gardaí he had seen her last at their home four days earlier.
The search of the forest was to get under way before the weekend but was postponed until yesterday because of the severe weather.
Gardaí maintained a presence there across the weekend before a massive logistics operation, involving the Defence Forces engineer specialist search and clearance team, began to seal off the area and move equipment on site yesterday.
Contractors erected fencing around the perimeter of the woodland and covered the barriers with black plastic sheeting to shield the search operation from the road.
A Garda incident command vehicle, portable buildings, portable toilets, large diesel-powered generators, and outdoor lighting rigs were positioned inside the cordon. Then shortly after midday, the Garda-led search, involving up to 60 personnel from the Cork North Divisional Search Team, assisted by specialist search services, including sniffer dogs, got under way.
They will search the wood in zones, from around 8am to 6pm daily, using equipment which can detect if the ground has been disturbed.
The entire operation could take up to three weeks and members of the public will not be allowed access to the area for the duration of the search, Supt Noonan said.
Members of the Satchwell family, including Richard, were informed of the search.
“You will appreciate that this is a very stressful time for them and I would urge that they be afforded privacy at this time,” said Supt Noonan.
“We are appealing to any members of the public who have any information concerning Tina to contact us in the strictest confidence.”
Despite an extensive investigation and searches, there has been no trace of Ms Satchwell since her reported disappearance.
There was hope of a breakthrough last July, when Mr Satchwell contacted gardaí to say he had found two suitcases at a clothes bank in the Tesco car park in Youghal, which looked like ones belonging to his wife.
However, forensic tests ruled out any connection between the suitcases and Ms Satchwell or her disappearance.
Anyone with information should contact Midleton Garda Station on 021 4621550.