New information about the disappearance of Trevor Deely has led to the "most significant" search yet for the 22-year-old who vanished after an office Christmas party 17 years ago.
Gardai are investigating whether Trevor Deely was killed and his body buried in woodland on a three-acre site in West Dublin near Chapelizod, according to informed sources.
The sources refused to disclose whether the information comes from a new witness, but described the operation as "tentative". It is understood investigators do not have an exact location to concentrate on, which means the entire three acres will have to be searched, which could take two weeks.
"The search is only one strand of a number of lines of investigation," said a Garda source. "We either close this strand or it develops into a main strand of our investigation."
The heavily wooded area is on the Old Lucan Road, across the road from the West County Hotel, and runs down to the River Liffey. The site is owned by South Dublin County Council. It is around six miles from the busy area along the Grand Canal in Dublin where Trevor Deely disappeared on December 8, 2000.
A search of the wooded area began at 7am yesterday morning. Gardai have cordoned off the area and brought in heavy machinery to begin clearing large tracts of land.
At a press briefing on the site, Gardai refused to specify what they are searching for on the site. Inspector Paul Costello said they are searching for "evidence in connection with the disappearance of Trevor Deely". He added that they could not disclose the source of the information behind the latest developments in the case.
Mr Deely went missing in the early hours of December 8, 2000. He had left his Christmas party and called at his place of work, Bank of Ireland's asset management offices on Wilton Terrace in Dublin 2, to collect an umbrella. The last sighting of him was at 4.14am when CCTV footage captured him walking on Haddington Road in the rain.
Despite extensive searches of the area, including canals and waterways, no trace of Trevor was ever found.
Gardai launched the first review of the baffling missing person case last year, 16 years after he disappeared.
Digitally enhanced CCTV footage produced a new "person of interest", a man dressed in black who is captured on CCTV apparently following Trevor on Haddington Road. The new evidence was enough to launch a renewed appeal for information about Trevor in April, along with a Crimestoppers reward of €100,000. Despite this appeal, Gardai are still trying to identify the person of interest.
Trevor's family were not present when the search began yesterday. "Obviously the family are finding this deeply distressing and I would appeal to you to respect their privacy at this stage," Inspector Costello said yesterday.
At the public appeal earlier this year, the family said they were "completely convinced that somebody somewhere knows something" about their brother. "We want to know how he disappeared and we want to know where he is now," said Trevor's older brother, Mark.