Arlene Arkinson murder inquest delays’ entirely caused by PSNI delays’

Arlene Arkinson
Arlene Arkinson

Police are working part time on an inquest into the suspected murder of a schoolgirl by a child killing rapist, a coroner’s court has heard.

A lawyer for the family of Arlene Arkinson said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (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.”

Arlene Arkinson, 15, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone went missing after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in August 1994.

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 trial jury was unaware of his history of sex attacks and his conviction for strangling south London teenager Hannah Williams four years earlier.

Despite extensive searches Arlene’s remains have never been found.

In eight years of preliminary proceedings 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 at which Howard, 71, and serving a life sentence at HMP Frankland in Co Durham had been due to give evidence.

A new hearing has now been listed for February.

Mr Toner added: “This inquest must now proceed, absent Mr Howard.

“It is the view of the family and is our view, that is entirely 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.”

The had been disclosure in 2013, the court was told.

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, it was claimed.

Scheduling another review for later this month, the coroner added: “My principal concern is not how we have to here but making sure we get an inquest and ensuring there are no further delays on my watch.”

Afterwards Arlene’s elder sister Kathleen Arkinson, an outspoken critic of the PSNI 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.”

The case has been adjourned until October 21.