Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

We need closure... a sister's sorrow as Arlene inquest delayed yet again

Arlene Arkinson

The sister of missing schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson fears she may not live to see a full inquest into the death.

Eight years after child killer Robert Howard was cleared of the 1994 murder, Kathleen Arkinson said that she and her family had been failed yet again by the authorities.

She said: "The system has let me down and the family down. At times I think, 'Will I make it myself for Arlene's inquest?' I have been asking for this since 2005. It would mean a bit of closure and comfort. This is just ridiculous. Arlene is pushed to the side again."

Arlene (15), from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, disappeared in August 1994 after a night out at a disco in Donegal. The teenager's body has never been found.

At a preliminary hearing in Belfast's Old Town Hall, senior coroner John Leckey ruled out holding a full inquest this year because of a strain on resources.

Mr Leckey said: "I would not have the capacity to hold an inquest this year. I just would not have the resources."

Arkinson family barrister Henry Toner QC said that he was surprised by the revelation. "I am slightly taken aback," he said.

Mr Toner also urged the court to set a date for the inquest as soon as possible.

"If we proceed in the way we are going it could be 2015," he added.

An inquest into Arlene's death was ordered in 2007, but has been dogged by delays after Howard's legal team launched a legal challenge claiming it could undermine the trial verdict.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Treacy has criticised the delay.

Meanwhile, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, acting on new information, carried out searches of Howard's former flat at Main Street, Castlederg, last year.

Mark Robinson, barrister for the PSNI, told the hearing that officers had removed 800 forensic exhibits from the flat and were awaiting results.

A derelict farm in Strabane was also excavated but tests proved negative. There have been no searches south of the border.

Mr Robinson said: "This is not a matter that has gone to sleep. This is a matter that has been proactively chased down.

"The police are doing everything they can."

Over 3,000 documents and 793 statements have been prepared by the PSNI for an inquest and are expected to be disclosed to the legal services next week.

Another preliminary hearing has been scheduled for March 8.

Background

In 2005 Robert Lesarian Howard was acquitted of Arlene Arkinson's murder. However, the jury was unaware he had a history of sex attacks and that two years earlier he had been found guilty of murdering teenager Hannah Williams in south London. The decision to withhold 'bad character' evidence was strongly criticised at the time, and the Belfast Telegraph subsequently named Howard as Arlene's killer. Howard is currently serving a life sentence in Durham for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Hannah, whose body was found in a cement works in Kent in March 2002. He remains the only suspect in the Arkinson case.

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