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Lead cop in Arlene probe destroyed his notes, inquest told

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 19/03/2016

Retired detective chief superintendent Eric Anderson
Retired detective chief superintendent Eric Anderson

The detective who led the investigation into the disappearance of Arlene Arkinson has burned and shredded all his notes on the case, an inquest has heard.

Eric Anderson also said the order to search the schoolgirl's sister's home had come from the top - former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley - after a tip-off from a "pillar of society".

Mr Anderson was giving evidence to Belfast Coroner's Court through Skype, because of medical issues.

The retired detective chief superintendent said he had destroyed his journals in 2011 - 10 years after he left the RUC.

He said: "I had them destroyed by burning and putting them through a shredder."

RUC rules dictated that journals be kept for a decade after retirement, but the force did not have any provision to store them, it was claimed. Mr Anderson said he could no longer keep them safe. "When I was retired I was under serious threat," he said.

"I had to move house. It was difficult to maintain keeping a safe place and it was decided, by me, that was the desirable thing. That was why they were destroyed."

The inquest is examining the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of 15-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, who went missing after a night out across the border 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 that was not told about his conviction for killing another teenager in south London several years earlier.

Howard (71) remained the prime suspect in the case until his death in prison last year.

The court was told that in April 1996 Mr Anderson had directed police and Army to search the home of the schoolgirl's sister Kathleen Arkinson at Drumnabey Park in Castlederg. It lasted for two days and involved digging up the entire garden.

The controversial decision was taken by Annesly after a tip-off from a reliable source, Mr Anderson said.

"We went to see the Chief Constable of the day, the legal adviser of the day and also the briefed the DPP of the day," he said. "We would be seeking to search the house and gardens based on information which came to us from what could only be described as a pillar of society.

"He agreed we had no option but to do the search, and the DPP agreed also."

The identity of the person who provided the information is protected by a police application for a Public Interest Immunity certificate.

Despite moving on to other cases, the retired detective said he was still haunted by the Arkinson inquiry. He said: "I never relinquished an interest in this. It still haunts me to this day."

Earlier Mr Anderson was questioned about the apparent delay in detaining Howard, who was not arrested until a month after Arlene had vanished. When asked whether he believed vital clues had been lost, he replied: "Mr Howard had five days in which to dispose of the evidence and the body and do any other thing that he wanted to do. Lies were told.

"We were concerned in building a case against Mr Howard. It was suggested that we had a lot on Mr Howard, we had not - that came as a result of enquiries.

"The fact was we were trying to play catch-up in the disappearance of a young girl. We were trying our best to get a picture of Mr Howard in order that he could be arrested, held and prosecuted."

The case has been adjourned until next month when Mr Anderson is expected to continue giving evidence.

Meanwhile the coroner has also directed police to "redouble" their efforts regarding the disclosure of documents, particularly to locate any documents relating to the surveillance operation.

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