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Progress made over attempts to access police documentation in Arkinson inquest

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Progress made over attempts to access police documentation in Arkinson inquest thumbnailArlene Arkinson

THE continuing inquest into the disappearance of Castlederg teenager, Arlene Arkinson, has heard progress is being made in attempts to gain access to documentation held by police in the Republic of Ireland in relation to the case.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene was last seen being driven off down a country lane with convicted child killer, Robert Howard, after attending a disco in Bundoran in August 1994.

The convicted child killer and rapist was charged with her murder but was later acquitted in 2005 by a jury who was unaware of his conviction for killing another teenager, Hanna Williams, in south London several years earlier.

Howard (71) always remained the prime suspect in the case until his death from cancer in prison last year.

The teenager is presumed murdered but despite extensive searches her body has never been found.

Earlier this year there was renewed hope that the long search for her body was over when forensic experts were drafted in to search a secluded area of farmland in Killen. Ultimately, the searches proved unsuccessful.

The inquest, which got underway in February this year, following years of delay, has been beset by further delays in recent months, not least due to issues surrounding access to Gardai files.

Lawyers for the Arkinson family and indeed the coroner have spoken in the past of their frustration in advancing the inquest to a conclusion due to 'red tape' and other legal issues.

Earlier this month, the Arkinson family said they were "deeply frustrated" by the delays.

Another preliminary hearing of the Coroner's Court was held at Belfast's Laganside Court Complex on Friday.

Final instructions are imminent from An Garda Siochana in the case, a lawyer told the brief hearing.

Coroner's barrister Ronan Daly said he spoke to a senior counsel instructed by the Republic of Ireland's chief state solicitor.

"He confirmed the position that his understanding was that final instructions were imminent from An Garda Siochana," he said.

The hearing was further told that legal representatives from both jurisdictions are due to meet in Dublin in the New Year.

Lawyers for the Arkinson family and police who investigated the disappearance said there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel and it was encouraging news.

Coroner Brian Sherrard also said he was encouraged by the news adding that is important access if gained to the documents.

He said the inquest could not be finished without knowing something about material in the possession of the Garda.

A legislative change by Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has authorised the sharing of information.

A further preliminary hearing has been scheduled for January.

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