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Coroner's warning to cops over delays in Arlene inquest

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 22/10/2015

Murdered: Arlene Arkinson
Murdered: Arlene Arkinson

A coroner has warned he will summon senior police officers to explain the delays in disclosing papers to an inquest for missing teenager Arlene Arkinson.

Brian Sherrard said he would call a Superintendent or Assistant Chief Constable to court if the PSNI failed to meet a deadline later this month.

He said: "This is a very, very old case now. There are pressing reasons why we all need to tighten our belts to get this work done."

Arlene (15), from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out at a disco in Co Donegal in 1994.

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

Despite extensive searches Arlene's remains have never been found.

In eight years of preliminary proceedings a number of fixed hearing dates have been scrapped due to delays in disclosing papers.

At a brief preliminary hearing in Belfast's Laganside court complex, a barrister for the PSNI said 33 files had been handed over since last Friday and promised a further 10 would be ready by the end of this week. The remainder would be disclosed by the end of the month, he said.

Kevin Rooney QC said: "Literally, they have been working flat-out to try to get this exercise completed."

Issues with disclosure are understood to centre on heavy redactions on the documentation and the human rights of individuals whose identities have been protected.

Mr Sherrard said he wanted to hear how officers intended to "get over" obstacles currently holding up the process.

However, the coroner agreed to adopt a wait-and-see approach - saying he did not want to introduce an "aggravating delay".

He added: "I anticipate that the remainder of the bundles will be shared by the end of this month. If that does not happen, for whatever reason, then there will be a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, November 3 and at that preliminary hearing I would expect either (the Superintendent) or her ACC to attend."

In 2005 Howard was acquitted of Arlene's murder but the trial jury was unaware of his history of sex attacks and his conviction for strangling south London teenager Hannah Williams four years earlier.

The 71-year-old, who was serving a life sentence at HMP Frankland in Co Durham, had been due to give evidence at an inquest scheduled for September - but it was postponed. He died earlier this month.

A new start date has been listed for February.

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