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Arlene Arkinson 'may have been pregnant' when she disappeared, inquest told

Arlene Arkinson inquest begins but family not hopeful truth will out

By Nevin Farrell and Allan Preston

Published 15/02/2016

Kathleen Arkinson at a memorial stone to her sister Arlene
Kathleen Arkinson at a memorial stone to her sister Arlene
RUC officers search the home of Arlene Arkinson following her disappearance in August, 1994
Arlene Arkinson
Predator: Robert Howard
Arlene Arkinson's sister Kathleen
Arlene's sister Kathleen is comforted by her brother Martin in 2011 as a new search for Arlene's body proved fruitless

The long-delayed inquest into the murder of a schoolgirl who vanished in 1994 has heard that she confided to friends that she thought she was pregnant on the night she disappeared.

Arlene Arkinson (15) vanished in 1994 after crossing the border from Castlederg to attend a disco in Co Donegal.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died aged 71 in a Co Durham prison in October.

He had been due to give evidence at the inquest.

Howard was acquitted of the teenager's murder by a jury that was unaware of his previous conviction for murdering schoolgirl Hannah Williams, 14, in south London.

He always remained the police's prime suspect in the Arkinson case.

The court heard that Arlene confided to friends that she thought she was pregnant on the evening she disappeared.

She had alleged the father was someone close to, but not a member of the Arkinson family.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, counsel for the coroners service said: "She was confiding in some friends that she was pregnant and that the father was a person closely connected but not a member of the Arkinson family."

The inquest heard Arlene had experienced a trouble childhood after the death of her mother when she was ten.

School teachers described her as an "intelligent and well liked pupil" but said her poor attendance was likely to hold her back, Mr O'Donoghue said.

Her father struggled with an alcohol addiction and she had lived with a number of elder siblings.

And while staying with her sister Anita in 1993 she was sexually assaulted by her brother in law Seamus McGale.

Seamus had been imprisoned and was released 10 days before Arlene's disappearance.

Robert Howard, the last man believed to have been seen with Arlene on August 14, 1994 was on bail at the time for a previous sexual assault.

In her opening evidence to the court today Arlene's sister Kathleen thanked the inquest for holding the new hearing.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Kathleen Arkinson described her sister as a "blue-eyed girl".

Choking back tears, she said: "Mummy passed away when Arlene was 11 and Arlene was just the blue-eyed girl of the family. She was brilliant at art, she was good at school. I want people to know the real Arlene. She was our sister and she deserves to be found."

Ms Arkinson added that she hoped the long awaited inquest would help "ease" the family's pain.

Additional reporting PA

Arlene Arkinson inquest begins but family not hopeful truth will out

The sister of missing Arlene Arkinson says she fears the truth over the schoolgirl's murder may never come out as a long-delayed inquest finally started today.

Kathleen Arkinson will make a round-trip of 170 miles to be present at Laganside court in Belfast.

Arlene (15) vanished in 1994 after crossing the border from Castlederg to attend a disco in Co Donegal.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died aged 71 in a Co Durham prison in October.

He had been due to give evidence at the inquest.

And last week Secretary of State Theresa Villiers approved a Public Interest Immunity (PII) application for a series of documents linked to the case.

The final decision on whether to withhold secret files from being released to the inquest rests with the coroner.

Asked if she thinks the truth will emerge, Kathleen told the Belfast Telegraph: "The way things are going, I don't know. Every door I open I keep getting it closed in my face."

Kathleen expressed her anger at the NIO for trying to stop the release of information using a PII - something usually reserved for matters of national security.

"I want the inquest to go ahead and I want the files all released," she said.

"They should be - they have to be released to go ahead with the inquest.

"I want them released, but I won't know what is going on until Monday morning.

"Who is Theresa Villiers to close all these documents and not release them?

"She doesn't even know us, she didn't even know Arlene, she doesn't even know our family. She is a complete stranger to us, and for her to do that, I think is a disgrace.

"She is away to America, she didn't even meet me. Who gives her the right to say she is going to close this? She is not Arlene's mother or sister. I would like for her to sit down across a table from me and say why, and now she is away to America, hiding."

Kathleen added: "I'm not going through an inquest without Arlene's files being released. The inquest is going on, but why should half of it be all hidden?

"Who are they protecting? They are not protecting us, they are not protecting Arlene - that is against Arlene's human rights and ours.

"Everything has to come out - the truth.

"It is very important we have finally got this inquest, we need justice for Arlene. Arlene was a child of 15 years of age. This inquest means everything to her memory."

Kathleen said the inquest will last a month or more and she said it is being screened into a courtroom in Omagh to save the family having to travel to Belfast every day.

However, she intends to go to the city for the "important days".

Kathleen - who has been critical of police handling of the case - said she wanted to be present when former Chief Superintendent Eric Anderson gives evidence at the inquest.

Howard was acquitted of Arlene's murder by a jury that was unaware of his previous conviction for murdering a schoolgirl in south London.

He always remained the police's prime suspect in the Arkinson case.

Arlene Bernadette Arkinson lived at Drumnabey Park in the Spamount area of Castlederg.

She would have been approaching her 37th birthday this April. Although her body was never found, police launched a murder enquiry and the date of her death has officially been listed as August 8, 1994.

Lawyers for the Arkinson family have questioned why PII issues would be at play at Arlene's inquest, which is being heard without a jury. Coroner Brian Sherrard is set to hear legal submissions on the PII application tomorrow, with at least part of the hearing due to be held behind closed doors.

Castlederg councillor Derek Hussey said yesterday the Arkinson family deserved answers after years of waiting.

He said: "They undoubtedly deserve some clarity and answers. People just want the facts and the truth."

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