Former detective claims to know identity of Tayport’s ‘Unknown Bairn’

Ian Robertson placing flowers at the grave of the "unknown bairn" of Tayport.

A former detective who investigated the mystery of the ‘Unknown Bairn’ in Tayport 47 years ago has spoken of his belief that the child was “definitely” part of the Travelling people community.

Retired policeman Bob Beveridge, of Falkland, who worked with Fife CID at the time, has told The Courier that he is “quite sure” he knows the identity of the child found on the banks of the Tay  – although he believes it would be a “shame” for that identity to ever be made public now, and will not publically disclose it.

The stone commemorating the Unknown Bairn in Tayport Cemetery

Tayport man Ian Robertson found the body of the boy, thought to be aged between three and four, while walking his dog at the beach on May 23, 1971, and despite a nationwide appeal, the boy was never identified

In the absence of a family, people from across the UK sent money in to erect a gravestone in his memory which now stands in Tayport Cemetery.

Although the official post mortem verdict at the time ruled the death was “apparently due to drowning”, Mr Beveridge says the pathologist found that the boy had died of natural causes before he ended up in the water.

“We had arrested two Travelling people who were suspected of being the parents of the child who to this day has never been identified,” said Bob, now 75.

© DC Thomson
Bob Beveridge has run the Violin Shop in Falkland for 40 years

“At that time these Travelling people were known to have been in the vicinity.

“Today, forensic evidence – DNA – would be possible, but at that time it fell short of evidence and the parents will be long gone now.”

Bob recalled that two Travelling people, or tinkers as they were known, were on a bus travelling near Thornton and were very much under the influence of alcohol when they were heard acting suspiciously.

“The lady – the old deary – was greeting her heart out over the loss of her boy, and the man kept saying ‘shut up you’ll get us both the jail’,” said Bob.

“This was overheard by witnesses. But by the time we traced them the alcohol had worn off and they were absolutely saying nothing by the time they were brought to the police station.

“I’m quite sure I know the identity of that child – but it would be a shame to have him identified now because you know something, every year, and sometimes from all corners of the world, people will come and have a special service for the Unknown Bairn on the anniversary.  If he was identified he would lose his fame.”

Mr Beveridge noted that a lot of tinkers lived in cold damp tents around that time. It’s his view the child probably died of pneumonia and rather than having a confrontation with the authorities they just slipped his body into the water.

“The only crime they really had committed was the technical one of failing to register a death,” he added.

  • See Saturday’s Weekend Courier for an interview with Bob Beveridge who has spent the last 40 years collecting and selling violins.