Belfast Telegraph

PSNI to explain Arkinson redactions

Police have pledged to explain to a coroner why they blanked out sections of files relating to the disappearance of a murdered schoolgirl.

Lawyers for a convicted child killer who is set to give evidence at the inquest of missing 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson had heavily criticised officers for failing to provide a rationale for the redactions, which, they claim, have rendered the papers useless.

Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in 1994.

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

The trial jury was unaware of his history of sex attacks and his conviction for strangling south London teenager Hannah Williams in 2001.

A preliminary inquest hearing before senior coroner John Leckey in Belfast today was told that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was currently compiling a document that would explain why certain segments of the files were blanked out.

Lawyer for the coroner Frank O'Donoghue QC said he had received a "helpful letter" from the PSNI committing to provide explanation why certain facts were edited out on the basis of articles in the European Convention on Human Rights protecting the right to life and right to privacy.

"That will explain the basis of the article two and eight redactions," he said.

Mr O'Donoghue said once the police rationale was received he would assess a "number of options" regarding the release of that document to the lawyers representing Howard and Arlene's family.

"That is a work in progress," he said.

At previous preliminary hearings particular scrutiny has been focused on the police's decision to redact papers that had been provided, in unredacted form, to the criminal court hearing Howard's murder trial.

Mr Leckey and lawyers for Howard had urged the PSNI to explain why it was apparently treating the coroner's court differently.

The matter will be raised again at the next preliminary hearing on December 12.

The coroner's investigation into the disappearance of the teenager was postponed in May after a development in the police investigation prompted fresh digs for her body.

More than 92 new searches over the summer failed to find Arlene.

With no body found, lawyers for 69-year-old Howard, who is serving a life sentence at HMP Frankland in County Durham, intend to challenge the presumption Arlene is dead when the inquest gets under way next September.

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