Belfast Telegraph

PSNI 'entirely to blame' for years of Arlene case delays

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Police are only working part-time on an inquest into the suspected murder of a schoolgirl by a child-killing rapist, a Coroner's Court heard yesterday.

A lawyer for the family of Arlene Arkinson said the PSNI had just one officer dedicated to the long-running controversial case.

Henry Toner QC told a preliminary hearing at Laganside Court in Belfast: "I have said before this case is being prepared on the never-never. I say now it is being prepared on a part-time basis."

Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, went missing after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in August 1994. Her body has never been found.

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

Howard was acquitted of her murder in 2005, but the jury was unaware of his history of sex attacks and his conviction for strangling teenager Hannah Williams four years earlier.

In eight years of preliminary proceedings into Arlene's death, a number of fixed hearing dates have been scrapped due to delays in disclosing papers.

Most recently, a September start date was postponed until November. A new hearing has now been listed for February.

Mr Toner said: "This inquest must now proceed, absent Mr Howard. It is the view of the family that this is due to the years of delay in this process, and that has been entirely caused by various delays on the part of the PSNI."

However, a barrister for the police defended their handling of the case and described criticism as unfounded. Kevin Rooney QC said: "The reason the police take so long to go through these documents is because there are rights to be protected."

Directing that 49 folders of evidence be handed to lawyers for the family by the end of next week, coroner Brian Sherrard said it was imperative the disclosure issue was resolved.

Mr Sherrard said: "I feel frustrated by the constant shifting sands of disclosure in this case."

Files from An Garda Siochana and Kent Police must also be produced, the court heard.

Scheduling another review for later this month, the coroner said: "My principal concern is making sure we get an inquest and ensuring no further delays."

Afterwards, Arlene's elder sister, Kathleen Arkinson, an outspoken critic of the PSNI's approach, said: "I am not giving up. There are a lot of unanswered questions. Howard is gone. I won't get my answers from him now, but I need justice for Arlene."

Belfast Telegraph


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