Police investigating the death of the Moors Murders victim Keith Bennett are probing the reported discovery of a human skull.
The 12-year-old was one of five victims of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, with three of them later found buried on Saddleworth Moor.
But the schoolboy’s body was never found following his disappearance in 1964 and 48 years later his mother, Winnie Johnson, died aged 78 without fulfilling her wish to give him a proper Christian burial.
Fresh hopes were raised on Friday when a report in the Daily Mail revealed that author Russell Edwards believes he has located the youngster’s makeshift grave following “extensive soil analysis” which indicated the presence of human remains.
It is said Mr Edwards commenced his own dig – close to where the other Moors Murders victims were found – and uncovered a skull with teeth present which independent experts are reported to have concluded is human.
In a statement, Greater Manchester Police’s force review officer Martin Bottomley said: “At around 11.25am on Thursday, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) was contacted by the representative of an author who has been researching the murder of Keith Bennett, a victim of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
“Following direct contact with the author, we were informed that he had discovered what he believes are potential human remains in a remote location on the Moors and he agreed to meet with officers yesterday afternoon to elaborate on his find and direct us to a site of interest.
“The site was assessed late last night and, this morning, specialist officers have begun initial exploration activity.
“We are in the very early stages of assessing the information which has been brought to our attention but have made the decision to act on it in line with a normal response to a report of this kind.
“It is far too early to be certain whether human remains have been discovered and this is expected to take some time.
“We have always said that GMP would act on any significant information which may lead to the recovery of Keith and reunite him with his family. As such, we have informed his brother (Alan) of the potential development – he does not wish to be contacted at this time and asks that his privacy is respected.”
Recalling the discovery of the skull, Mr Edwards told the Daily Mail: “The smell hit me about 2ft down. Like a sewer, like ammonia.
“I worked as a gravedigger when I was 19. That hits you, that smell of death. It is distinctive.
“Police have to go and do a full-scale dig now.
“This is about peace for Keith, closure for his family. Brady has not won.”
Keith was last seen by his mother in the early evening of June 16 1964 after he left home in Eston Street, Longsight, Manchester, on his way to his grandmother’s house nearby.
Brady and Hindley’s other victims were Pauline Reade, 16, who disappeared on her way to a disco on July 12 1963; John Kilbride, 12, who was snatched in November the same year; Lesley Ann Downey, 10, who was lured away from a funfair on Boxing Day 1964; and Edward Evans, 17, who was axed to death in October 1965.
The killers were caught after the Evans murder and Lesley and John’s bodies were recovered from the moors.
Both Brady and Hindley were taken back to Saddleworth Moor to help police find the remains of the outstanding victims but only Pauline’s body was recovered.
Brady claimed he could not remember where he had buried Keith.
In 2009, police said a covert search operation on the moor, which used a wealth of scientific experts, had also failed to discover any trace of the boy.
Hindley died in jail in 2002 at the age of 60.
Brady died in a high-security hospital in 2017 aged 79.
Speaking after Brady’s death, Mr Bottomley said: “It is especially saddening for the family of Keith Bennett that his killers did not reveal to police the whereabouts of Keith’s burial site.
“A week hardly goes by when we do not receive some information which purports to lead us to Keith but ultimately only two people knew where Keith is.
“Greater Manchester Police will never close this case. Brady’s death does not change that. We will act on credible and actionable information that will help lead us to him.”