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Secret Arkinson files 'name man INLA grilled over Arlene and bogus tip-off source

By David Young

Published 17/02/2016

Arlene Arkinson
Arlene Arkinson
Child killer Robert Howard

Files the Government hopes to withhold from the inquest into Arlene Arkinson's murder name a man interrogated by paramilitaries and the person whose false tip-off led police to dig up the garden of the schoolgirl's sister.

A coroner yesterday held a private hearing to consider whether the identities of individuals linked to the case should be made public.

Controversy erupted last week, just days before the long-delayed inquest was due to start, when the Government signed off on a Public Interest Immunity (PII) bid to withhold certain police files from the court amid claims they contained information that could harm the public interest.

Grounds for PII include matters of national security or the protection of police methodologies, such as the use of informers.

While the Government has obtained such immunity on sensitive papers relating to legacy terrorist cases, it was unclear why these issues would be at play in the case of the murdered teenager.

Coroner Brian Sherrard is to reveal his determination on the application today.

Prior to the start of yesterday's behind-closed-doors hearing at Belfast Laganside courts, Mr Sherrard heard submissions from the Arkinson family's barrister outlining their concerns about the proposed redactions.

The legal team has seen the documents with the parts subject to the PII application blanked out.

Henry Toner QC said one section referred to an individual who had been abducted and questioned about the murder by the INLA.

"Who this was seems to be highly relevant to this inquest," Mr Toner added.

The barrister also told how the files referred to an episode some time after Arlene disappeared when police arrived in a blaze of publicity at the home of her sister Kathleen Arkinson and dug up the garden in an unsuccessful search for the body.

Mr Toner said the name of the person who passed bogus information to police claiming Arlene was buried at the property needed to be made public. The lawyer also expressed concern that further PII applications could be made throughout the whole inquest process.

Away from the censorship issue, Mr Toner further questioned if the police had any further information as to why detectives had ruled out another initial suspect in the killing - convicted murderer Stephen Scott.

In 1998 Scott, formerly of Lisanelly Heights in Omagh, Co Tyrone, killed pregnant teenager Sylvia Fleming and buried her under a house.

Mr Toner said the initial investigative link with Scott had been unknown to the family's legal team until they read about it in uncensored sections of the documents that contain the PII redactions.

"This is the first time we have been aware of any such connection or potential connection," he added.

Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished aged 15 after a night out at a disco in Co Donegal in 1994. Her body has never been found.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died in prison last year.

Despite being acquitted of the murder by a jury unaware of his long record of sex crimes, including the murder of a south London schoolgirl, Howard always remained the police's prime suspect in Arlene's death.

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