Arlene Arkinson inquest delays play to conspiracy theorists, says family lawyer

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Conspiracy theorists are capitalising on delays in concluding the inquest for murdered teenager Arlene Arkinson, a coroner’s court has been told.

A lawyer representing the Co Tyrone schoolgirl’s family said they were struggling to explain why the high profile case, which opened last year, had effectively ground to a halt.

Ivor McAteer said: “When there is inertia, that gives scope to the conspiracy theorists.

“We are facing yet another summer; yet another anniversary, and locals are asking, ‘what are they trying to hide?’

“The family are finding life very, very difficult.”

The case has been stalled for months to facilitate the sharing of information from legal authorities in the Republic of Ireland.

The material includes papers on the lines of inquiry pursued by An Garda Siochana, searches carried out south of the border, and a purported meeting between Gardai and the former girlfriend of Robert Howard, the prime suspect in the murder.

Garda officers may also be asked to give oral evidence.

During a preliminary hearing at Belfast’s Laganside Court, it emerged that the Chief State Solicitor’s Office in Dublin had requested further clarification on the court’s requirements.

The endeavours to assist “ring extremely hollow”, said Mr McAteer.

“Clearly, they have no idea whether there is any result from a review which is or was carried out.”

Arlene, 15, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out across the border in Co Donegal in August 1994.

She was last seen being driven down a country road by Howard, a convicted paedophile with a lengthy criminal history.

Despite extensive searches, including a fresh dig in Tyrone last year, her body has never been found.

The Arkinson family, who have closely followed proceedings, were not in court for the brief hearing but their barrister said they would attend in June.

“This inquest is crying out for closure”, added Mr McAteer.

Meanwhile, Judge Brian Sherrard, who is presiding over the long-running case, urged the Irish authorities to urgently deal with the case.

Judge Sherrard said: “The family are foremost in my thoughts with this.

“It would be useful if the family were here on the next occasion so I can spell out to the family and to the wider public what my reasons are for the decisions that have been made in recent months.

“But, I sincerely hope that we do not need to do so, because we will have the information that is being sought.

“None of this should reflect in any way on the family. There is no concern in my mind regarding that.

“It is necessary for this court to have information that seems to be in the hands of An Garda Siochana.”

Robert Howard was acquitted of Arlene’s murder in 2005 by a jury not aware of his past crimes which included the murder of a south London teenager several years earlier.

He remained the prime suspect until his death in prison in 2015.

The inquest been adjourned until June 22.