Belfast Telegraph

Coroner doubts over Arlene inquest

An inquest into the death of a schoolgirl who was last seen with a convicted child killer may not start for two years, a court has heard.

The examination of Arlene Arkinson's murder was scheduled to commence this autumn but a coroner has now expressed doubts that it will even be held in 2013. The delay is due to the length of time required to review and disclose to the court the huge police file on the case.

The body of the 15-year-old, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, who disappeared after attending a disco across the Irish border in Bundoran, Co Donegal, in 1994 has never been found.

Arlene was last seen in a car driven by Robert Howard. He was found not guilty of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not made aware of his dark criminal past.

Howard is serving a life sentence in Frankland Prison, Durham, for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Hannah Williams, whose body was found at a cement works in Northfleet, Kent, in March 2002. The killer had mounted a legal challenge against a court order compelling him to appear as a witness at Arlene's inquest, but he has since dropped that appeal.

Howard remains the only suspect in the police investigation into the teenager`s murder. Officers undertook fresh searches for her body last year, with more scheduled this spring.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast, Northern Ireland senior coroner John Leckey was told that while 15 files of police documents on the case were ready for him to assess for relevance, a huge amount of outstanding paperwork had still to be re-examined by officers before being disclosed.

Ivor McAteer, a lawyer for the family, said it was likely the coroner's exercise in early 2013 would take four months, with the lawyers then needing a similar timeframe. He said there could then be legal arguments over relevance of certain documents, before a start date for the inquest could be set.

"I think we have to be realistic, it (the inquest) is clearly not going to happen this year," he said. Mr Leckey agreed.

"There will also be a question mark about next year," the coroner added. Mr McAteer replied: "Well certainly the early part of next year."

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