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Arlene Arkinson's family deserve better

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 15/02/2016

Arlene Arkinson
Arlene Arkinson

It is easy to see why the family of Castlederg girl Arlene Arkinson approach today's long-delayed inquest into her murder with a jaundiced view of justice. Arlene disappeared 21 years ago after a night out at a disco and the family's continual quest to find out how she died and who killed her has been thwarted at every turn.

The police investigation into the killing left a lot to be desired and the prime suspect, Robert Howard, who was the last person seen with Arlene, was acquitted by a jury which had not been told of his previous conviction for killing a girl in London. Howard is now dead.

During the police investigation the family's back garden was even dug up, adding to their grief by fuelling totally unfounded public suspicion that they may have had something to do with her death.

And in an astonishing move last week, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers approved a Public Interest Immunity application for a series of documents related to the case. The coroner will now decide if these files can be used in evidence at the inquest. PIIs are normally issued in matters of national security, causing great surprise and raising questions about why they should be used in this case.

So far the family and the public have been kept in the dark about any possible reasons for agreeing the PII application. Indeed, both may still be in the dark after the coroner's decision, especially if he accepts the application as he would be unable to go into detail.

Little wonder that Arlene's sister Kathleen feels that every time a door opens even a little in this case it is swiftly slammed shut again.

The impact on the Arkinson family of the mystery of Arlene's death and the fact that her body has never been found is impossible for outsiders to gauge. It took them some time to finally accept that Arlene had been killed, yet for the past two decades they have never really got much closer to discovering the truth of what happened.

The loss of a child in any circumstances - Arlene was only 15 when she disappeared - is horrific for any family, but to have to accept that they were murdered without any prospect of real justice must be almost intolerable to bear.

Even if expectations are low, perhaps this inquest will shed new light on Arlene's disappearance and death. If ever anyone deserved that, it is the Arkinson family.

Belfast Telegraph

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