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No way Arlene would have left home and not contacted family, sister says

Published 18/04/2016

Arlene Arkinson vanished after a night out across the Irish border in August 1994
Arlene Arkinson vanished after a night out across the Irish border in August 1994

There was "no way" Arlene Arkinson would have willingly left home and never contacted her family, her sister has told an inquest.

Anita McGale also dismissed claims the 15-year-old schoolgirl was pregnant when she vanished in August 1994.

A visibly upset Mrs McGale, who was giving evidence by videolink from Omagh Courthouse, said: "I just know Arlene. She wouldn't have done that."

Arlene, from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out across the Irish border in August 1994. Her body has never been found.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Robert Howard, who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was unaware of his conviction for killing another teenager in south London several years earlier.

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

When asked by Frank O'Donoghue QC, counsel for the coroner, to comment on the theory that Arlene may have "simply left home and gone to live elsewhere in another country or another place", Mrs McGale replied: "No way."

Belfast Coroner's Court heard how Arlene had lived with Mrs McGale at her home in Omagh for about 18 months after the death of her mother in 1990.

But the arrangement ended when Mrs McGale's former husband Seamus McGale was accused and subsequently convicted of sexually abusing Arlene, the court was told.

He was sentenced to 18 months in prison but was released after six months on August 4 1994 -- 10 days before Arlene went missing.

While living in Omagh, the teenager would have socialised in Castlederg at weekends but would not have stayed away without informing her sister, the hearing was told.

"She always told me where she was," said Mrs McGale.

The inquest has previously heard claims that Arlene confided in friends that she was pregnant and told others she had been treated in hospital for a miscarriage.

Mrs McGale, who described their relationship as "close", said she had no knowledge of any pregnancy or miscarriage, and did not know why her sister would have made up such a story.

Throughout the hearing, Mrs McGale, a mother of five, was supported by two of her sons.

Proceedings were adjourned twice to allow the visibly distressed witness to speak to her solicitor and regain her composure.

Judge Brian Sherrard, who is presiding over the high-profile case, said it was important to hear what she had to say.

Earlier, retired detective Brian Lavery was questioned about a report he provided on police databases.

Mr Lavery, who was seconded to the National Crime Faculty in England in 1997, said there may be some merit in revisiting aspects of the Arkinson case.

He said: "Everything could be revisited if we have a task in hand that has not got a successful conclusion. There is always merit in revisiting.

"But I retired 10 years ago. I do not know what other work has been done. I do not know how many times these things have been revisited."

In 2001 he gave a presentation to a senior police officer who was exploring the possibility of pursuing a prosecution against Howard in the absence of Arlene's body.

The hearing has been adjourned until Tuesday.

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