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‘King Richard III’ causes a stir among social workers in Leicester

It may have meant the loss of their carpark but social workers at Leicester City Council aren’t complaining. Beneath the concrete slabs, a team of archeologists hunting for the remains of King Richard III have made an exciting discovery and from their offices nearby social workers have had front row seats.

A fortnight into the dig, organised by the Richard III Society, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, a skeleton believed to be that of the 15th century monarch was removed from the ground.

The council’s head of service for children’s resources Cheriel O’Neill saw the action from her third floor office, which overlooks the dig site. “I saw them uncover the skeleton bit by bit and saw them pull the skull out,” she says. Not that she was supposed to be looking.

People licensed to carry out exhumations are required to prevent bystanders watching their activities but Cheriel says she could not resist regular peeks from behind the blinds to see what was happening. “I wasn’t able to tell anyone because I wasn’t supposed to be looking,” she says. “It was a good week before an announcement was made about what had been discovered.”

DNA tests will now be carried out on the skeleton and compared with that of one of his descendants to confirm whether it is that of Richard III, who reigned from 1483 until his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, the last major battle of the War of the Roses.

“It’s quite surreal,” says Cheriel. “To think we could have been trampling over a past king of England.”

Her perfect vantage point has attracted media requests and she has been interviewed for Channel 4 News. “About ten minutes before the interview I suddenly thought ‘what do I actually know about Richard III’ so I Googled him quickly and was able to reel off all these facts,” she laughs. “My social work skill of being able to read and assimilate information quickly comes from years of reading reports.”

She adds: “The car park is pretty horrible actually so it is funny to think that people could be visiting from all over the world if it does turn out to be Richard III.”

She says the events outside her window have led social workers to put in more requests than usual to use her office for meetings. Staff have also been able to get a more considered view of the site, however, as the archeological team has offered tours of the dig area to staff working in the office block.