Coroner doubts over Arlene inquest

Arlene Arkinson.
Arlene Arkinson.

An inquest into the death of a Co. Tyrone schoolgirl who was last seen with a convicted child killer may not start for two years, a court has heard.

The examination of Arlene Arkinson’s murder was scheduled to commence this autumn but a coroner has now expressed doubts that it will even be held in 2013.

The delay is due to the length of time required to review and disclose to the court the huge police file on the case.

The body of the 15-year-old, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, who disappeared after attending a disco across the Irish border in Bundoran, Co Donegal, in 1994, has never been found.

Arlene was last seen in a car driven by Robert Howard. He was found not guilty of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not made aware of his criminal past.

Howard is serving a life sentence in Frankland Prison, Durham, for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Hannah Williams, whose body was found at a cement works in Northfleet, Kent, in March 2002.

At a preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast, Northern Ireland senior coroner John Leckey was told that, while 15 files of police documents on the case were ready for him to assess for relevance, a huge amount of outstanding paperwork had still to be re-examined by officers before being disclosed.

A lawyer for the police said the workload already facing the unit meant the process of studying Arlene’s case notes was not set to start until the autumn and could take four months.

Mr Leckey will then have to go through all those papers himself to assess their relevance before passing them to legal representatives of both Howard and the Arkinson family for examination.

Ivor McAteer, a lawyer for the family, said it was likely the coroner’s exercise in early 2013 would also take four months, with the lawyers then needing a similar timeframe. He said there could then be legal arguments over relevance of certain documents, before a start date for the inquest could be set.