Belfast Telegraph

New searches could find abducted schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson

By Deborah McAleese

The family of a schoolgirl who was abducted and presumed murdered 17 years ago said they are placing their hopes in a new police search operation to find her body.

Detectives are to meet with the family of Tyrone teenager Arlene Arkinson tomorrow to outline details of the fresh searches.

This weekend Arlene, who was 15, will have been missing for 17 years.

She vanished near her home in Castlederg, Tyrone, after attending a disco in Bundoran, Co Donegal, with friends.

Convicted child killer and rapist Robert Howard is believed to have abducted Arlene and murdered her, even though he was acquitted in 2005 after details of his criminal record - a 40-year history of past convictions for rape, murder and child abuse - were withheld from the jury.

He is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of 14-year-old Hannah Williams from south London, whose body was found in a cement works in Kent in March 2002.

"I am both ecstatic and nervous about the new searches. One minute I am really hopeful, the next I am afraid to get my hopes up in case they still can't find her," said Arlene's sister Kathleen.

The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Superintendent Raymond Murray, is to meet with Kathleen and other family members tomorrow morning for a briefing on the developments in the investigation.

"On Saturday Arlene will have been missing for 17 years," Kathleen added.

"I have never given up hope that we would one day find her remains. Ever since I was contacted by the police last week about the searches my emotions have been very up and down. I really want to believe we will finally find her, but I'm also afraid of the searches turning nothing up."

Police had previously said they would only conduct new searches for Arlene's body if new evidence came to light.

It is not clear what, if any, developments or evidence have prompted the search to restart.

The family want an inquest to be held to examine how the RUC conducted its investigation into Arlene's disappearance and the acquittal of Howard for her murder.

A report by the Police Ombudsman in 2008 said police treated her disappearance as a missing person inquiry for too long rather than a potential abduction or murder. It also said they took too long to arrest Howard, the main suspect.

Background

Tyrone teenager Arlene Arkinson went missing 17 years ago after attending a disco with friends. It is believed she was abducted and murdered by child killer and rapist Robert Howard, even though he was acquitted by a jury in 2005. The 15-year-old's body has never been recovered, but police will carry out new searches this month.

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