A MORE grisly fishing haul is hard to imagine.
As the crew of Whitby trawler The Christina pulled up their net from the seabed and emptied their catch onboard, a human skull came into view.
The vessel was about 10 miles off the coast of Hartlepool, three hours from home, and holding the only known remains of a man who police are still trying to identify, more than three years on.
The skull is probably that of a western European man aged between 20 and 50, and detectives have issued a computer-generated image of how he may have looked (above).
Police believe the skull, recovered at about 1.30pm on February 14, 2008, could have been in the sea for decades and may be the remains of a wartime sailor killed in action.
After collecting it at Whitby Harbour and taking statements from the skipper and crew, police were hopeful of identifying it as it still contained a number of teeth.
Scientists were able to recover a DNA profile but, despite extensive database searches, police have been unable to match it to any person reported missing.
Det Insp Allan Harder, of North Yorkshire Police’s major crime unit, said: “There are several hypothesises as to its origin.
“It could be that of a serviceman killed during the war, a burial at sea, a person swept out to sea or something else.”
The case highlights the problems police encounter when trying to identify bodies which have lain undiscovered for decades.
“The identification of bodies is difficult,” Det Insp Harder said, “and in cases where it is only a body part the difficulty can increase.”