A NEW bid to solve one of Herefordshire's greatest mysteries is revealed this week. After fresh information about the case, from a man offering evidence against his own father, detectives are to dig for the body of Derek Saville, who vanished without a trace in 1954 .

Officers involved in the new investigation - codenamed Operation Panda - have even pinpointed suspects in what could soon be among Britain's oldest outstanding murder inquiries.

One suspect, from Hereford, died earlier this year, but the Panda team is aware of likely accomplices, all now into their 70s and 80s, who are still living locally.

The new case has these men bound by a sinister secret they have shared into old age and a fight for love that turned fatal.

Two of the Panda team returned from Perth, Australia, on Monday having extensively re-interviewed the witness that gave them a possible location for Saville's body, close to where he was last seen alive in Canon Pyon 53 years ago.

Here, the witness, then a seven-year-old boy, said he saw his father, and four or five other men he didn't recognise, digging what might have been a makeshift grave.

The body hunt, supported by search specialists, geographic profilers, and forensic archeologists, is due to start at the site on Monday.

Derek Saville disappeared in December,1954, and talk of his fate has been the stuff of folklore in the county ever since. A major investigation, carried out amid intense media attention, by the then Herefordshire Constabulary, failed to find any trace of the 25-year-old.

None of the original case papers survive, but three former detectives involved at the time have helped Panda with their recollections of the inquiry and insights into issues around it.

Det Insp David Llewellin, of Hereford CID, said the input of these old officers had been invaluable. They, and other surviving witnesses traced by the team, helped put together an outline of how Saville might have met his end.

With the evidence they had, the Panda team believed Saville was the victim of a love rival who ambushed and killed him - intentionally or otherwise - on his way home from a girlfriend the two had clashed over.

Saville is known to have been threatened and intimidated by this man - a prime suspect - who lived in Hereford until his death this January after a long illness. The belief is that Saville's body was hidden then later buried when several more men were involved.

"But all of this is speculation. What we are working with right now is credible and tested evidence that suggests a site where Derek Saville's body may be. The dig is being done on the strength of that," said Det Insp Llewellin.

If a body is found, the papers will probably be put to the county coroner, then the file could go to the Crown Prosecution Service to see what charges - if any - can be brought.

Members of the Saville family have been kept informed of Panda's progress. They are not yet making any public comment on the case.