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Arlene Arkinson inquest has cost £73,000 since April, says detective

Published 03/11/2015

Arlene Arkinson vanished after a night out at a disco in Co Donegal in 1994
Arlene Arkinson vanished after a night out at a disco in Co Donegal in 1994

A senior detective has denied police are not doing enough to progress the inquest of a missing schoolgirl, revealing that more than 2,500 hours, at a cost of almost £75,000, have been diverted to the case since April.

Detective Superintendent Karen Baxter was called to give evidence to the coroner examining the murder of Arlene Arkinson after police missed a number of deadlines for security vetting and disclosing documents to the court.

"We simply don't have any other resources to put to this case in terms of disclosure," Ms Baxter told coroner Brian Sherrard.

Arlene, 15, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in 1994.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died in prison last month.

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

The 71-year-old always remained the police's primary suspect in Arlene's disappearance and had been set to give evidence before her long-delayed inquest, which is due to begin in February.

Failure by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to meet disclosure deadlines have thrown that start date into doubt.

Ms Baxter was requested to appear before Mr Sherrard at Belfast Coroner's Court after he accused the police of not diverting appropriate resources to the disclosure process.

In a robust defence of the PSNI position, Ms Baxter, the detective in charge of the murder inquiry, said the disclosure exercise involved 65 folders containing 5,833 items, with some individual items extending to 40 pages.

She said in the last seven months 1,396 police officer hours and 1,160 support staff hours had been diverted to the case - a workload she costed at £73,580.

She told the coroner that officers working on disclosure were part of a major investigation team based in Londonderry that also had numerous current cases to work on, including 34 murder, attempted murder and serious crime probes.

Ms Baxter said in the wider Foyle area there had been 15 bomb attacks and 15 shootings since August last year as well as two attempted under-car bomb bids on police officers. She said across Northern Ireland there had been 11 murders since April, three of which were categorised as the most complicated type of investigation.

"The reason I give you that information, sir, is we have an obligation to resource each and every one of those cases because they pose a risk to people today," she told Mr Sherrard.

"I understand the hurt and grief of the Arkinson family, but the fact of it is Robert Howard was the primary suspect in this case, he is now deceased, so the risk posed to people today is not as much as the cases I have outlined to you today."

She added: "We are not being obstructive, we are not seeking to delay this process and above all we are not seeking to heap any more grief or misery on this family."

Mr Sherrard said he acknowledged the pressure the PSNI faced but he again expressed concern that not enough manpower was being diverted to the inquest.

"It reinforces to me that the Coroners Service is very much the poor man of the justice system," he said.

The coroner set a new set of targets for disclosure, with the process due to be finished by early December.

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