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Killer Robert Howard's lawyer warns of legal action over Arlene Arkinson delays

By David Young, PA

Published 16/05/2015

Murderer: Robert Howard was convicted of killing a 14-year-old
Murderer: Robert Howard was convicted of killing a 14-year-old
Missing: Arlene disappeared after a disco in Donegal in 1994

A lawyer for a convicted child killer due to testify at the inquest of a missing schoolgirl has warned of potential legal action if delays in disclosing State papers persist.

Robert Howard, who is now in his 70s, is to give evidence before a coroner investigating the murder of Northern Ireland teenager Arlene Arkinson in 1994.

But Howard's barrister has voiced concern at the viability of the fixed September start date for the long-delayed probe, citing continuing problems gaining access to important police and social services files.

Karen Quinlivan QC told Northern Ireland's Senior Coroner John Leckey: "Unless we get this material in the next week, we are not in a position to professionally represent our client."

Ms Quinlivan said she would have to "reflect" on whether to take judicial review proceedings in Belfast High Court to force disclosure if the documents were not forthcoming.

Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished aged 15 after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal.

Eleven years later, Howard, who was the last person seen with her, was acquitted of her murder.

The trial jury was unaware of the defendant's history of sex attacks and his conviction for strangling south London 14-year-old Hannah Williams in 2001. With Arlene's body having never been found, lawyers for Howard - who is serving a life sentence at HMP Frankland in Co Durham, England - intend to challenge the presumption that she is dead at the inquest.

However, police on both sides of border maintain she was the victim of a murder, and their investigations into her disappearance remain active.

In what was the 25th hearing in a preliminary inquest process that started in 2007, Ms Quinlivan told Belfast Coroners Court she and her colleagues were unable to start crucial preparatory work without first getting the papers.

She raised a particular issue relating to accessing files pertaining to Arlene's involvement with social services prior to her disappearance.

The lawyer claimed the documents referred to the teenager's expressed desire to "run away from home".

Ms Quinlivan said her legal team had also yet to receive all papers from the PSNI, the Garda and from police in Kent on the Hannah Williams case.

The barrister highlighted that the Coroners Service had also not yet received all the files - just over three months out from the start of the inquest.

Mr Leckey, who will soon retire, said he did not intend to "abandon" the start date at this stage.

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