Belfast Telegraph

Arlene family's anguish after further inquest delay

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

The sister of murdered teenager Arlene Arkinson has said a series of delays in concluding her inquest are taking an emotional toll on her.

Kathleen Arkinson was speaking after a coroner's court was told that conspiracy theorists are capitalising on the delays.

Speaking from her home in Castlederg following yesterday's hearing, Kathleen said: "The stress is coming back to me. I feel like my life is on hold but we are not going to give up our hope of getting justice for Arlene."

Yesterday, a lawyer representing the Co Tyrone schoolgirl's family said he was struggling to explain why the high-profile case, which opened last year, had effectively ground to a halt.

Ivor McAteer said: "When there is inertia, that gives scope to the conspiracy theorists.

"We are facing yet another summer; yet another anniversary, and locals are asking, 'what are they trying to hide?'

"The family are finding life very, very difficult."

The case has been stalled for months to facilitate the sharing of information from legal authorities in the Republic. The material includes papers on the lines of inquiry pursued by An Garda Siochana, searches carried out south of the border, and a purported meeting between gardai and a former girlfriend of Robert Howard, the prime suspect in the schoolgirl's murder.

Garda officers may also be asked to give oral evidence.

During a preliminary hearing at Belfast's Laganside Court, it emerged that the Chief State Solicitor's Office in Dublin had requested further clarification on the court's requirements.

The endeavours to assist "ring extremely hollow", said Mr McAteer. "Clearly, they have no idea whether there is any result from a review which is or was carried out."

Arlene (15), from Castlederg, vanished after a night out across the border in Co Donegal in August 1994.

She was last seen being driven down a country road by Howard, a convicted paedophile with a lengthy criminal history.

Despite extensive searches, including a recent dig in Tyrone last year, her body has never been found.

The Arkinson family, who have closely followed the inquest's proceedings, were not in court for the brief hearing but their barrister said they would attend in June.

"This inquest is crying out for closure", added Mr McAteer.

Meanwhile, presiding Judge Brian Sherrard urged the Irish authorities to deal urgently with the case.

Judge Sherrard said: "It would be useful if the family were here on the next occasion so I can spell out to the family and to the wider public what my reasons are for the decisions that have been made in recent months.

"But, I sincerely hope that we do not need to do so, because we will have the information that is being sought. None of this should reflect in any way on the family.

"There is no concern in my mind regarding that.

"It is necessary for this court to have information that seems to be in the hands of An Garda Siochana."

Robert Howard was acquitted of Arlene's murder in 2005 by a jury who were not aware of his past crimes which included the murder of a south London teenager several years earlier.

He remained the prime suspect until his death in prison in 2015.

The inquest has been adjourned until June 22.

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