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The missing: The Northern Ireland families that never give up hope

Arlene Arkinson, who’s presumed murdered, was last seen in 1994
Arlene Arkinson, who’s presumed murdered, was last seen in 1994
Gone but not forgotten: Peter Quigley vanished in 2013
Kevin Quigley

They vanished without a trace, but their absence is a constant source of anguish for heartbroken families. As another year draws to a close without any definitive answers about what happened to their loved ones, two people tell Leona O'Neill why they will never stop searching for the missing.

The period between Christmas and the new year is traditionally a family time when loved ones come together to exchange gifts and celebrate the holidays. But for those who are missing loved ones, the festive season is always tinged with sadness.

The Quigley family, from Armagh, and the Arkinson family, from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, each have people missing from around their dinner tables this year.

Peter Quigley disappeared in 2013, while Arlene Arkinson, who went missing in 1994, is presumed murdered.

Their families have lived through days, weeks and years of worry, frustration, grief, brief flashes of hope cruelly dashed and desperate devastation that not many of us could even comprehend.

For Kevin Quigley (65), the father of missing Peter, this time of the year intensifies his feelings of loss and helplessness.

His son was last seen at Moira railway station on September 26, 2013, and despite extensive searches, he has never been found.

For Kevin, there is no closure, and at Christmas time the absence of his beloved son is acutely felt.

"Peter was a very quiet young man ... he would be 37 years old now," he says.

"It was such a shock when he disappeared, and no one has seen him in five years.

"He had no passport, no driving licence and no money with him, so we wonder where he has gone.

"Peter had been living in Mullaghbawn, not far from the family home.

"He did something stupid - pinching something from Sainsbury's - and they (the authorities) locked him up.

"He had done it three times before just to get in jail and released within a week or two, and then they'd give him money. He was a bit silly like that. But the last time he was released from prison, he never came back.

"Peter was released from Maghaberry on September 26, 2013, but he disappeared off the face of the Earth. We never saw him again. We were really worried.

"We thought he might have gone to London to see his mum, but he couldn't get there because he didn't have any ID, let alone any money.

"There were a few times we had our hopes raised - people said they might have saw him in Newcastle, but it was someone else. They kept giving me hope that he was there somewhere. But it came to nothing. He has been missing now for five years."

The past few weeks have been incredibly difficult for Kevin, and the lack of closure only amplifies his pain.

"Christmas is a special family time, but it is particularly hard for us," he says.

"Our children were close and we all think about Peter all the time, particularly at Christmas.

"My children all grew up together. Peter was four or five when I started a new family here in Northern Ireland with my wife, Beth.

"We had four children, and Peter followed me over here from England. He would have come over every summer and we'd all go camping.

"I think about him all the time, not just at Christmas. At this time of year I'll be thinking that if he is out there, he is probably freezing cold.

"But I don't think he is out there. I just can't see him sitting there in Ireland in the cold on his own. Why would he do that to himself or to us?

"I just don't know where he would be, or how he would get off the island of Ireland."

Kevin deals with his turmoil by throwing himself into work. He has also relocated to London to find work away from the family home in Armagh.

"I deal with it by working all the time," he says. "I work for myself here in London now, and I work hard all day. I have a few pints on the way home, I get home in time for dinner and then I go to sleep. I'm back at the work the next day.

"We are constantly contacting the police and asking if there is anything going on, but no one has seen him.

"What I miss about Peter the most is his sense of humour. He was always happy. He did his own thing and had so much affection. We used to enjoy getting together. He enjoyed being with the family

"When someone goes missing, there is no closure. I just want to know where he could be. I just can't go walking around Ireland looking for him because I don't even know where to start.

"But I will never give up looking for him. I will keep trying to get to the bottom of what happened.

"I think about Peter every single day, not just at Christmas."

Kathleen Arkinson's 15-year-old sister, Arlene, disappeared in Donegal in 1994.

The Castlederg girl was last seen in the company of a convicted child killer, the late Robert Howard.

Howard was the prime suspect in her disappearance, but her body has never been found.

A long-running inquest into her murder is scheduled to finish next year.

If Kathleen could have one Christmas wish, it would be for her sister's body to be found, so that her remains can finally be buried beside her mother and father.

"The family is never the same," she says. "At this time of the year it is particularly hard because it's a family time.

"We would have bought presents, but there is no present to buy for Arlene. I didn't even put a Christmas tree up this year.

"Our sister, Nita, died last November and it just devastated me - she wasn't just my sister, she was my best friend.

"Me, Nita, Mary and Paula fought for Arlene for all those years, but Mary and Nita are now gone. It's so hard. At times I just do nothing but cry and stay in my bed."

When the family learned of Arlene's disappearance 24 years ago, it was like "time stood still".

"It's like I lived in two different worlds - one before she went missing and one after," Kathleen explains.

"It feels like I can't breathe sometimes ... it's like claustrophobia. It has just taken part of my life away and taken a terrible toll on the family.

"I am on medication, and at times I end up crying at the kitchen table. My children are used to this because they have grown up with it.

"Christmas is a terrible time for us. As I said, my sister died last November. The anniversaries of my other sister, Mary, and my father are at this time also.

"I remember Arlene's last Christmas. We brought Santa to Mary's house. She (Arlene) was 14 years old then and she enjoyed herself there with all the other children ... those are nice memories to have.

"My sister, Paula, and I often sit with photographs and imagine what Arlene would be like now... we think about how many children she would have had and of the Christmases that we could have spent together."

While this time of year is especially hard, Kathleen doesn't like people wishing her a happy Christmas because she knows she "won't have a happy one" and doesn't allow people to send her cards with those kind of sentiments written on them.

She also feels the pain of Arlene's loss the entire year round.

"I don't think about Arlene more at Christmas than at any other day of the year," Kathleen says. "The truth is that it's the same every day of the year.

"Christmas is nice for the children. I like to see them with their presents and coming in and out, but there is no sparkle or magic there. I have to pretend there is for the children. People say that time is a healer, but I don't believe that."

And at Christmas, as every other day of the year, Kathleen holds to one belief.

"I still believe that Arlene will be found," she says. "My Christmas wish was that she is found and we will be able to bury her in beside our mum and dad.

"Over Christmas we went to my mother and father's grave and laid flowers for them and for Arlene. We remember them all."

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