The family of a man murdered by loyalists are to take legal action against the PSNI after it emerged that part of his skull had been retained for almost 19 years.

Police were forced to admit this week they had retained body parts and tissue samples of 64 murder victims, including 23 relating to the Troubles.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said the PSNI had acted within the law but admitted relatives should have been informed.

The grieving widow of Anthony Butler, murdered by the UFF in 1993, was visited by officers on Thursday and informed that part of her late partner’s skull had been retained.

No-one has ever been charged with the murder of the 40-year-old father-of-one, who was shot dead when loyalist gunmen forced their way into his home in south Belfast.

Maureen Jamison said she thought officers who called to her house had been coming to tell her they had caught the men responsible for the sectarian murder.

“It’s as if it is happening all over again,” she said.

“This has brought all the pain back. They left me with a decision whether to bury Tony’s skull or incinerate it.”

The family have instructed their solicitors to initiate legal proceedings against the PSNI.

Patrick Madden – of Madden and Finucane solicitors, who represent the Butler family – said there must be an “immediate and transparent inquiry into why relatives were not informed”.

“We do not accept the explanation given by police for not informing the family about the retained body part,” Mr Madden said.

“We have represented dozens of families involved in the human organ inquiry so we are aware of the devastation and the traumatic effects that this news has on families.

“But more importantly the police would also have been aware of the ramifications of this inquiry and also the Alder Hey organs scandal in 1999 which led to the Human Tissue Act 2004.

“For whatever reason they have decided not to make relatives aware until now and this has caused extreme distress to our clients. This is totally unacceptable.

“We have now initiated legal proceedings on behalf of the Butler family.”