Belfast Telegraph

Police failure to produce files at Arlene inquest a 'disgusting insult'

By DONNA DEENEY

The failure of the PSNI to produce documents for the Chief Coroner at a preliminary hearing into the death of Arlene Arkinson is a "disgusting insult", her family have said.

The hearing into the missing 15-year-old was scheduled to take place in Belfast but has been delayed after police produced less than half the material senior Coroner John Leckey had requested.

Almost 20 years after the teenager disappeared, her family are still waiting for an inquest to be held.

Mr Leckey yesterday hit out at PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott over delays in disclosing material to inquests, saying resourcing issues should be raised with the Minister for Justice to ensure that long-running hearings are not held up.

He said: "I endeavour to hold inquests as soon as possible. But it is not happening. If the Chief Constable feels that he cannot comply with what I regard as my reasonable requirements, it is a matter he should raise with the Minister for Justice."

This was the latest in a number of delays which have plagued the Arkinson family since Arlene disappeared and was believed murdered almost 20 years ago.

The 15-year-old from Castlederg in Co Tyrone went missing in August 1994 after a night out at a disco in Donegal. Her body has never been found.

Her sister Kathleen Arkinson hit out at the police and said there is a lack of will within the PSNI to progress with the case.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Kathleen said: "I am angry, hurt but not surprised that yet again we have been put the bottom of the list by the police.

"We are just an ordinary, common family with no money, so as far as I can see we don't matter to the police. They have had almost 20 years to produce these documents and it is a disgusting insult to us, my sister Arlene and our dead parents that they once again couldn't be bothered to get the documents together so that this inquest can go ahead."

In 2005, child killer Robert Howard was acquitted of murder but the jury was unaware he had a history of sex attacks and that two years earlier he was found guilty of murdering Hannah Williams (14) in south London.

It also emerged that Howard, the man suspected of killing Arlene Arkinson, is seeking legal aid to fund representation at the inquest.

The child killer is serving a life sentence at HMP Frankland in Co Durham. He is due to give evidence at next year's inquest via videolink.

Barrister Desmond Hutton said the matter was with the Minister for Justice for consideration.

Mr Hutton said: "Given that he is a life sentence prisoner and his ill-health, no, he is not someone who would be able to fund representation at an inquest of these proportions."

Mr Leckey said he hoped Justice Minister David Ford could make his decision by next month.

He said: "Should a life sentence prisoner incarcerated in HMP Frankland be provided with funding at an inquest concerning the apparent murder of a young girl in which he is the prime suspect?"

Kathleen Arkinson argued that there was too much consideration being given to the man suspected of murdering Arlene.

She added: "I cry myself to sleep every single night and so do the rest of my family. Does anyone care about that?

"My father and my sister went to their graves without ever getting Arlene's body back or seeing Robert Howard jailed for her murder.

"My father's last words to me before he died were 'never stop fighting for Arlene' and I won't, none of us will.

"I do not care what happens Howard, they can keep him on life support if they have to. I want him to suffer the way we are suffering and I will never give up and Matt Baggott needs to know that because no matter how many delays they try I will still be here."

It emerged in court that less than half the police papers relating to the case had been made available to the coroner's office.

Demanding that all material, with the exception of sensitive documentation, be disclosed to his office by the end of this month, Mr Leckey asked why additional officers were not drafted in from other UK forces to assist the PSNI with the process.

He added: "If resource issues are a problem, it is a problem for the chief constable."

Mark Robinson, barrister for the PSNI, claimed detectives had been put under increasing strain because of last week's murder of Kevin Kearney in north Belfast and the hunt for Kieran McLaughlin in Londonderry, as well as flags and parading protests over the summer. He told the court: "Every effort is being made to have this exercise completed.

"I just do not believe that the end of the month is going to be manageable."

It is understood that around 1,500 items are to be sent to the coroner's office next week. A further 17 lever arch files have already been handed over.

An inquest has been scheduled to begin at Omagh courthouse next April.

An anguished family's search for closure... the decades of heartbreak and let-downs

1965 Robert Howard, aged 19, is found guilty of attempted unlawful carnal knowledge after he was caught entering a six-year-old's bedroom pretending to be a doctor.

1969 Robert Howard is jailed for six years for the attempted rape of a woman after he broke into her Durham home.

1973 Robert Howard is convicted of raping a 58-year-old woman twice in her home after robbing her.

1993 Howard carries out a sex attack on a teenager in Co Tyrone and is given a suspended sentence.

AUGUST 1994 Arlene Arkinson, aged 15, fails to return home after a night out in Co Donegal.

Arlene vanished near her home in Castlederg after crossing the border with friends to go to a disco in Bundoran.

The last reported sighting of her was when she was seen in a car driven by Robert Howard.

Extensive searches were carried out but no firm evidence of the 15-year-old still being alive has ever been found and her body has not been discovered.

APRIL 1996 Detective Superintendent Eric Anderson orders police officers to dig up the back garden of the home of Arlene's sister, Kathleen. Nothing is found.

OCTOBER 2003 Robert Howard is sentenced to life in prison for killing and raping Hannah Williams (14) from Deptford, south London.

Her body was found at a cement works in Northfleet, Kent, in March 2002.

2005 Robert Howard is acquitted of Arlene Arkinson's murder.

The jury in the trial were unaware he had a history of sex attacks and that two years previously he had been found guilty of murdering Hannah Williams.

The Arkinson family is outraged at his acquittal and the fact his previous record was not revealed in court.

2007 Judge orders an inquest into Arlene's death

AUGUST 2008 The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland publishes a report which is heavily critical of the police investigation into Arlene's disappearance.

The report claims that police failed to properly investigate Arlene's disappearance and said valuable evidence in the search for Arlene Arkinson's killer was unavailable because police did not arrest the chief suspect sooner.

It also said they took too long to arrest Robert Howard even though they had grounds to do this within 48 hours of her disappearance. He was not held until 46 days after Arlene had first been reported missing.

As a result, police were not able to get the clothing Howard wore on the night of the disappearance and it allowed him the opportunity to dispose of evidence.

NOVEMBER 2008 William (Willie) Arkinson, Arlene's father, dies from a suspected heart attack aged just 66.

The father-of-seven was discovered at his Castlederg home following 14 years of heartbreak and tireless searching for his daughter's remains.

His family blame the strain of never being able to give his daughter a burial as the main cause of his heart attack.

AUGUST 2011 Police pledge to do all they can to recover Arlene's body as new searches get under way.

The police begin searches at 48 different sites using a team of police officers and specialist sniffer dogs.

The searches start on land at Scraghy Road between Castlederg and Ederney, Co Fermanagh, where Arlene was last seen in the early hours of 14 August, 1994.

DECEMBER 2011 Robert Howard (right) loses a legal challenge against holding an inquest into Arlene's death.

The convicted child killer was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the coroner's decision to examine the disappearance of Arlene in September 2011.

His legal team claims the move involves an attempt to undermine the not-guilty verdict returned against him.

They argue that the inquest will be used as a way of reopening issues surrounding the case because of the not-guilty verdict.

FEBRUARY 2012 Senior Coroner John Leckey announces it is his intention to call Robert Howard to give evidence at the inquest into Arlene's death.

He said the inquest would need to be held in a room secure enough to deal with a Category A prisoner giving evidence.

MARCH 2012 Police officers using specialist search dogs resume a series of searches at a number of rural locations in Co Tyrone. Nothing is found.

MARCH 2012 Arlene Arkinson's family discover that the inquest which they had hoped would be held in September 2012 will be delayed.

Senior Coroner John Leckey was told that while 15 files of police documents on the case were ready for him to assess for relevance, a huge amount of outstanding paperwork had still to be re-examined by officers before being disclosed.

SEPTEMBER 2012 Police resume a search of a flat in Castlederg which was the former home of Robert Howard.

Acting on new information, police carry out a detailed forensic examination which was not a search for human remains.

The new searches come as a result of advances in forensic science since the murder investigation into Arlene's disappearance was opened.

FEBRUARY 2013 Senior Coroner John Leckey rules out holding a full inquest at any time during 2013, citing strain on resources.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Treacy criticised the delay.

OCTOBER 2013 A date of April 2014 has been set for the inquest into Arlene's death, which is expected to take two months to complete.

Robert Howard has been compelled to attend and is currently seeking legal aid over his appearance.

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