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We'll never get justice but I hope we can finally lay Arlene's soul to rest, says sister as cops probe the site of a possible 'shallow grave'

Donna Deeney visits the quiet Tyrone fields where forensic officers are conducting a new search for remains of Castlederg teen missing since 1994

Published 17/09/2016

The scene of the search yesterday
The scene of the search yesterday
Arlene Arkinson’s sister Kathleen at the scene of the search
Arlene Arkinsons' sister Kathleen
Robert Howard

For Kathleen Arkinson, the long search for closure has gone on for 22 long years. As she looked across the Tyrone fields where a new site is being searched for the remains of her sister Arlene, her eyes filled with tears.

Kathleen said she was scared to hope that, at last, this remote location could be the place where their agonising wait for Arlene's body ends so her family can "lay her soul to rest".

Just a mile from where the 15-year-old was last seen alive in the company of child murderer Robert Howard, police forensic specialists are combing and recording every inch of this new search site.

The Arkinson family was informed about developments on Tuesday but warned not to get their hopes up in case, once again, they were dashed.

Despite this Kathleen felt compelled to come to the quiet area and get as close as she could to the place where, perhaps, her sister was buried by Howard.

He remained the police's prime suspect in the murder investigation until his death in 2015.

Kathleen struggled with the wave of raw emotions she felt at being there, and sobbed with her head in her hands.

She is scared that this search, like others which have taken place over the past two decades, will be fruitless.

She said: "Being here brings everything back again.

"I don't want to get our hopes built up.

"I am afraid it's not her, that would be such a knock-back.

"We want her found, we want her soul to rest in peace and so we can get on with the rest of our lives - we just want this all to be over with."

She added: "This is an ideal place to dispose of a body; I just pray that Arlene is there and I want everyone out there to say a wee prayer for Arlene on behalf of our family.

"I hope Arlene is there and we can get a bit of closure because we will never get justice for Arlene. The justice system has failed us.

"The family liaison officer is keeping in touch with everything that is going on, and I know 22 years is a long time, but we will never give up hope. Never." The family's reluctance to hope that this search could return their sister to them is not without foundation. They have been let down so many times before.

There have been dozens of extensive sites searched at various times as police followed every tip-off and possible lead.

The searches included deeply forested areas and remote landscapes in counties Tyrone, Donegal and Fermanagh, all to no avail.

No one could blame Kathleen Arkinson for describing this latest area as an "ideal place" to bury a body.

Just a mile from Killen village, there is barely a house in sight, and the site itself sits among a copse of trees which, even 22 years ago, would have provided cover, if indeed this is where Howard brought Arlene (left).

This latest search for the remains of the teenager was sparked after local farmer Joe Doherty said he noticed disturbed ground close to a derelict farm building, and something about it didn't rest easy with him.

He explained: "I was over at the site on Monday and noticed that the ground was a bit odd.

"It was noticeable because the animals had eaten all the greenery away and I saw what looked like a shallow grave to me.

"What struck me was there was a mound of raised earth and beside it was what I'm calling the 'grave'.

"On top of the grave there were stones.

"No animal dug that, it was dug by a person, and I think they knew what they were doing and were going out of their way to make sure it wasn't dug up again, which was why the stones were put there.

"I didn't do anything when I saw it but it was in the back of my mind that it wasn't just right.

"So I said to my wife because it was bothering me, and I rang the police on Tuesday."

He added: "It would be good for the family if they do find Arlene's body.

"It would be good for everyone.

"This has been like a dark cloud hanging over the whole place."

The police have been at the scene since Tuesday where they have been recording and photographing the site with meticulous care.

However, officers have said it is still too early to confirm if human remains have been buried under the stone-covered "shallow grave" discovered and reported by Mr Doherty.

Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray, who was among the officers who visited the site on Tuesday, said: "It would be premature to draw any inference from this initial report or the police response to it at this time."

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