DETECTIVES hunting for missing pensioner Mary Ferns say they have been given fresh hope after human remains discovered during the search were finally identified as a man who disappeared 15 years ago.
Officers in West Lothian confirmed that a male skeleton found on the banks of the River Almond in Livingston is that of 56-year-old James Adams, who vanished in 1996.
Search teams discovered his remains while looking for Mrs Ferns, 88, from Howden, and initially thought it may have been her.
Now that the case has been solved, police chiefs said it provided fresh hope that Mrs Ferns – who disappeared almost four years ago – could be found.
DCI Phil Gachagan told the Evening News: “Of course, it was Mary Ferns we were looking for at the time of the discovery.
“We did think it may have been her, but we also kept an open mind, as you have to do in these cases.
Then we established it was a male after quite a complex investigation.
“But it does give you hope that Mary Ferns can be found.
“That’s coming up for four years since she went missing and the case is still open and active.”
Mrs Ferns went missing in June 2008 after telling her husband she was going to a nearby shop.
She did not suffer from dementia, and later that day was spotted on CCTV in Edinburgh. Police have searched the River Almond and elsewhere around West Lothian in the hope of solving the mystery.
DCI Gachagan said Mr Adams’ remains could now be passed back to his family for funeral arrangements.
The area where his body was found was so obscure that even the people in a nearby house had never been through it.
Weeds reach five metres high in summer, and there is no path providing proper access to the zone.
DCI Gachagan added that Mr Adams – who had moved to Livingston’s Brisbane Street from London – was identified partly thanks to an old bus pass wallet, from which forensic teams were able to extract a name and partial address.
“There’s no reason anyone would ever have gone to that part, it really is remote,” he said.
“Of course, we’re hopeful of finding Mary Ferns but this case has been solved now, and that can bring closure and answers to [Mr Adams’] family.”
The search for Mr Adams, who lived alone, was launched after neighbours reported his two dogs had been left alone.
It was reported at the time that he had lost contact with his family and had no friends in the area. Investigations on his remains have also confirmed that he died of natural causes.
Police are still appealing for information about Mary Ferns. Anyone who can help should contact them on 0131-311 3131 or anonymously through the Crimestoppers hotline on 0800-555 111.