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Information behind search of Arlene Arkinson's sister's home based on 'hearsay'

Published 16/05/2016

Arlene Arkinson's body has never been found
Arlene Arkinson's body has never been found

The controversial decision to search the home of Arlene Arkinson's sister was based on third hand information, an inquest for the missing schoolgirl has heard.

Police and army personnel swooped on Kathleen Arkinson's home in April 1996 - two years after the Co Tyrone teenager vanished - and du g up the entire garden over several days.

Barrister Frank O'Donoghue QC, counsel for the coroner, said: "The information that was provided to the police was the repetition of a hearsay statement."

The revelation came as a former detective constable, who was part of the decision making process, gave evidence for a second time.

Proceedings had to be temporarily halted when Paul Bennett, now retired, was asked by a lawyer for the Arkinson family about the unnamed person he met in 1996.

Henry Toner QC, said: "Is it right that the person, now called the source, and who you met away from the police station was someone bringing information which had been given to them by others?

"The perception that we had was that the person whom you met away from the police station actually had first hand information to give but it now seems that the person was giving information which had been given to them or which had been overheard. It was in effect hearsay."

Mr Bennett said: "This person explained to us things that the person had actually seen which was connected to this particular party."

The identity of the informant is protected by a public interest immunity certificate despite objections from the Arkinson family legal team.

But the court heard police were "satisfied with the consciousness" of the person providing the tip off.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene went missing after a night out in Co Donegal in August 1994.

Her body has never been found.

She was last seen with child killer Robert Howard who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which, for legal reasons, was not told about his lengthy criminal history including a conviction for killing Hannah Williams in South London several years earlier.

But Howard, 71, remained the prime suspect in the Arkinson case until his death in prison last year.

Giving evidence in March, Mr Bennett described chaotic scenes when officers arrived at Kathleen Arkinson's home in Drumnabey Park, Castlederg.

A hysterical Ms Arkinson was handcuffed in front of her screaming children, it was claimed.

Nothing was found but unsubstantiated rumours about her involvement in Arlene's disappearance have persisted for years.

Meanwhile, the court heard also how Ms Arkinson consented to a second search at her home using specialist radar equipment in 2002.

It was conducted by Kent Constabulary who were about to commence the Hannah Williams murder trial.

Retired Chief Inspector James Gault, who was the Police Service of Northern Ireland's senior investigating officer on the case from 2002 until 2005, told the court he was initially opposed to the move.

He said: "I believed that the information was not anything particularly new - it was simply a re-jigging of information.

"The previous search had been very, very extensive and had anything been there it would have been recovered during that search.

"I did not believe there was a body there."

While he understood the rationale for the request from Kent police, Mr Gault also had had concerns about obtaining the necessary level of authorisation, the court heard.

The case has been adjourned until Tuesday.

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