No plans for new Arlene Arkinson searches, inquest told

There are no plans to conduct new searches for missing teenager Arlene Arkinson, an inquest has been told.

Monday, 9th May 2016, 4:48 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2016, 5:52 pm
Arlene Arkinson vanished after a night out in August 1994

Sergeant Alan Clarke, a police search advisor, said extensive work had already been done since 2010.

When asked whether police at this time had any intentions to examine bridges or other locations where the schoolgirl may be buried, the officer replied: “None.”

Fifteen-year-old Arlene from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out at a disco in Co Donegal in August 1994.

She was last seen being driven off late at night with child killer Robert Howard. He was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his conviction for killing a south London teenager several years earlier.

Arlene’s body has never been found and Howard died in prison last year at the age of 71.

Sgt Clarke from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was brought into the investigation in August 2010 after a senior officer ordered a review of the high-profile case, the court was told.

He was asked to adopt a new approach using the modern methods now deployed in missing persons inquiries.

“Our purpose was to sit down and examine documents, to take a new approach to see if we could take it forward; to see if we could try and locate Arlene Arkinson,” he said.

A victim recovery dog and team of up to seven specialist officers spent months scouring the rural hinterland around Castlederg between 2010 and 2012, it was revealed.

They focused on forested areas such as Killeter as well as fire dams, reservoirs and remote farmland.

“It is very rural, very isolated and there are large, large portions of forestry land,” said Sgt Clarke. “It is very secluded in parts; sparsely inhabited especially up around the border.

“Mr Howard was very knowledgeable of the area and roamed far and wide.”

It was unlikely Howard would have taken the body across the border, the court was told.

Sgt Clarke added: “We took the view that the border was not only a physical but a psychological barrier.

“A lot of the roads were closed and had dragon’s teeth (concrete blocks used to seal off roads) and there was also security force activity in relation to the police and Army.

“We believe that if you have a body in the boot of your car and you are driving on a rural road at that time of night, really you would be taking a lot higher risk because if stopped, the police and Army will certainly search your vehicle.”

It was also revealed that in 2014 police received a tip-off claiming Arlene’s body was buried under a bridge near a bog.

Some 90 bridges were identified and Sgt Clarke visited each one to assess whether it would meet the criteria for someone seeking to dispose of a body without being seen.

Although searches were mounted at 13 sites all proved fruitless, the court was told.

When asked by Kevin Rooney, a barrister for the PSNI, if any would be revisited, the officer said he was “satisfied” they could be eliminated.

Later, details were given about a three-week examination of Howard’s former flat on Main Street, Castlederg, in 2012.

The property, which has since been demolished, was in a poor state of repair and part of the bathroom and staircase had collapsed.

Sgt Clarke said it was their last chance to retrieve potentially vital clues.

“The building was in a bad state of repair,” he said. “It was on the verge of collapse. We had one last opportunity to search it prior to it being demolished which it has since.”

They were hunting for evidence like blood, bodily fluids or anything that could advance the investigation, and seized flooring, doors, light switches and ceiling lights, according to Sgt Clarke.

A trailer was also taken away and its contents seized.

The decision to search the flat some 18 years after Arlene vanished was made because of advances in forensic techniques, the court was told.

The hearing has been adjourned until Tuesday.