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Exhumed body in Sligo was not that of Arlene Arkinson, inquest told

Thursday, 21 June 2018

THE coroner presiding over the inquest of Arlene Arkinson has said it remains unclear if a grave exhumed in the search for the missing schoolgirl has any links to her disappearance.
Brian Sherrard, who has been overseeing the long-running case at Belfast Coroners Court, was speaking at the resumption of the inquest on Monday.
Last week it was confirmed that the body of a woman with long hair wrapped in plastic which was exhumed from a grave in March was not that of Arlene.
It is also understood that the body suspected to be hers was first known to Gardai officers in 1999.
Mr Sherrard said the confirmation that the body was not that of the Castlederg teenager had failed to draw a line under the issue as he suggested the need for tests on other bodies buried in the plot.
"More work needs to be done before I would be content to leave this matter to one side," he said.
The 15-year-old vanished after attending a disco with friends across the border in Bundoran in August 1994.
She was last seen being driven off down a country road by convicted child killer and rapist, Robert Howard, who died in a Co Durham prison in October 2015 from cancer. He was acquitted of her murder in 2005.
At the time the jury in the case was unaware of his conviction for the murder of teenager, Hanna Williams (14), who was found in an industrial area in South London in 1992.
Her body has never been found but her family's hopes were high after the remains were exhumed in Sligo.
The Arkinson family were told of the test results last week. Sister, Kathleen, said that once again their hopes had been dashed.
'Devastated'
"My hope in finding the remains of my sister, Arlene, have been dashed again. I prayed it was Arlene and was devastated when I was told it wasn't. We seem to suffer blow after blow," she said.
Details about the body in the grave were disclosed in Garda files obtained by the coroner as part of the ongoing inquest.
It is understood the files showed that a body was discovered in 1996 by gravediggers as they prepared the ground for a burial but it was then subsequently reburied. They claimed the body was buried two to three feet beneath the surface.
It is believed it was not reported until three years later when a local priest was told about the discovery in an anonymous phonecall. He informaed Gardai but a decision was taken not to exhume the body.
It is understood one of the reasons given why it was not reported in 1996 was for fear the IRA had something to do with the death.
Around that time a woman also wrote to a priest to say she had heard that, shortly after Arlene's 1994 disappearance, a man had persuaded some gravediggers to bury Arlene's body in a grave they were digging for a conventional burial
It was not until the file was examined by the coroner that the authorities in Sligo obtained an order to exhume the body.
At Monday's preliminary hearing in Belfast, the court heard that the remains examined belonged to an adult male, not a young girl.
Mr Sherrard said he had a number of concerns following the revelation adding that Gardaí needed to clarify whether there was an additional body in the grave, other than the four formally registered as being buried there.
Examined
The coroner said he also needed to know whether all of the remains found in the plot had been examined, or just one.
Highlighting that he has no authority to demand information from the Garda, he asked that PSNI officers ask counterparts south of the border for cooperation in "filling in the blanks".
Ivor McAteer, a barrister representing the Arkinson family, described the development as "very peculiar" as said that until Monday, the family were not aware that the body that had been examined was male.
He said the family wanted to know what had prompted Gardaí to pursue an exhumation in 2018, given the fact that they had not chosen to do so in 1999 when informed of the tip-off.
He said the family had been upset by how the exhumation had been handled and were mindful of the distress it was causing to relatives with loved ones buried in the Co Sligo grave.
"(They) have no wish to trample on their grief and make things worse," he said. "We are all in the dark about how much relevance this will have to the ultimate inquiry."
Mr Sherrard adjourned the case for another preliminary hearing on September 4.

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