SCOTLAND’S world-leading forensic anthropologist has told how she is still haunted by cases she has been unable to help solve.

Professor Dame Sue Black has helped identify victims and perpetrators of crime in war zones like Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Iraq, and helped crack numerous criminal cases across the UK.

But asked if some cases still haunt her and wake her in the small hours, she recalled instances where families remain unable to lay their loved ones to rest.

She told how one young man found dead in woodland in East Dunbartonshire in 2011 is known to her only as “the man from Balmore” as he remains unidentified to this day.

She also cited her involvement in efforts to locate the remains of Renee MacRae and her son Andrew from Inverness, who disappeared in November 1976, and 11-year-old Moira Anderson who vanished in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, in 1957; none of whom have yet been found.

Prof Dame Sue said: “Usually they arise with people who have bodies but you can’t figure out who they are.

“I talk about ‘the man from Balmore’ because I don’t know what his name was; he was just the man from Balmore. He’s a young man and we found his body hanging in the woodlands, very badly decomposed.

“Somewhere surely that young man has got family who are missing him, and so I hate those situations where you have a body but you are not able to let them go home because you can’t find their name.

“By the same token, those incomplete circles where you know somebody is missing but you can’t find the body.

“We spent a lot of time trying to find Renee MacRae and her three year old son Andrew who went missing in Inverness in 1976.

“We spent a lot of time trying to find their remains, and Moira Anderson who went missing in Coatbridge in the 1950s.

“Not finding these bodies whilst there is still family alive is really challenging, because they talk about when that person went missing that their life went in to stutter. And although their life goes on it’s always anchored back to that point when that person went missing.”

Dame Sue was Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at Dundee University for 15 years, and head of the university’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID). She left Dundee to become Pro Vice-Chancellor for Engagement at Lancaster University earlier this month.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, she added: “I had a lovely letter from Renee MacRae’s sister saying that every time somebody digs to find where Renee might be she gets her hopes up again and then when we don’t find her she feels the same depression.

“So we don’t ever lose sight of the fact in our profession that there are living, breathing family waiting for that knock on the door that brings the bad news home but it’s a kind news as well as a bad news - it’s that certainty of knowing what’s happened.

“All Renee MacRae’s sister had said is ‘all I want to do is to bring my sister home’. ‘I want to know where she is; I want her in the ground; I want to be able to visit her’.

“It’s the same for Moira Anderson’s family. Much of our work is for the courts and it is about justice but it’s equally about those family members who are left behind trying to cope and understand the situation that they are faced with.”