Belfast Telegraph

Coroner defends delays in Arlene Arkinson inquest

Delays to the long-running inquest for missing Northern Ireland schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson are worthwhile, a coroner's court has been told.

The case, which opened almost exactly a year ago, has been stalled for months as efforts are made to obtain information from authorities in the Republic of Ireland.

Although some material has now been handed over, Judge Brian Sherrard told a preliminary hearing at Belfast's Laganside Court he wanted to retain momentum.

The coroner said: "This is a worthwhile exercise. I t may ultimately come to a point when we are putting a line underneath all of this but we are not at that point yet. "

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

She was last seen being driven down a country road by convicted paedophile and child killer Robert Howard.

Despite extensive searches, including a fresh dig late last year, the teenager's remains have never been found.

Judge Sherrard is seeking more information on three key areas including the lines of inquiry pursued by An Garda Siochana; searches carried out south of the border; and a purported meeting between Garda officers and Howard's former girlfriend Patricia Quinn and her daughter Donna Quinn in Letterkenny.

He added: "We are still seeking this information. It is a task that has not been entirely straightforward to date."

The coroner has previously spoken about the level of red tape hampering cross border co-operation, but a legislative change by Irish justice minister Frances Fitzgerald has authorised the sharing of information.

The disclosed material is due to be disseminated among legal teams for the Arkinson family and PSNI within a fortnight, the court was told.

Judge Sherrard noted that the PSNI may want to make "applications" in relation to some of the material.

"There are matters that will undoubtedly be of interest to the PSNI," he said.

Meanwhile, the Arkinson family, who have closely followed court proceedings, were not present for the brief hearing.

Judge Sherrard added : "I want to reassure them I am mindful as to the timescales involved and I will remain mindful as to the timescales."

Robert Howard was acquitted of Arlene's murder in 2005 by a jury not told of his lengthy criminal past which included the murder of South London teenager Hannah Williams several years earlier.

However he remained the prime suspect in the Arkinson case until his death in prison in 2015. The inquest has been adjourned until March.

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