A sister of murdered schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson has spoken of her relief at a coroner’s ruling that her inquest should be held near her home town.
The hearing, scheduled to start next April, will take place in Omagh and is expected to last for just over two months.
Kathleen Arkinson said travelling to Belfast would have traumatised the family all over again.
“It is a total relief. If we had to go up to Laganside again everything would be brought back to us. We would have had no confidence in anything and it would have meant so much travelling which would have been hard for family members who are not well,” she said.
Arlene, 15, from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, disappeared in August 1994 after a night out at a disco in Donegal. Her body has never been found.
In 2005 child killer Robert Howard was acquitted of murder but the jury was unaware he had a history of sex attacks and that two years earlier he was found guilty of murdering Hannah Williams, 14, in south London.
A preliminary hearing at Belfast’s Old Town Hall was told Howard, currently behind bars at Frankland prison in Co Durham, will give evidence via videolink.
Ms Arkinson said: “I don’t know what way we are going to feel when we see him. I don’t know what reaction we are going to have. But, I am sure we will have the strength to get through the inquest. We fought so hard to get here and now I feel that something is turning in our favour, slowly but surely. It is hard to describe.”
Senior Coroner John Leckey told the brief court sitting that the inquest will definitely go ahead.
“The timetable is set. The court room is available. It is going to commence on April 28,” he said.
It was revealed that around 40 folders of evidence, including transcripts, photographs, press cuttings, transmissions and police messages, will be disclosed before next year’s inquest begins.
Mark Robinson, barrister for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said: “Seventeen folders have been provided. It was anticipated that a further eight folders would be disclosed by this week but it will be next week. It is anticipated that a further 15 folders will be available by the end of the disclosure process.”
An inquest into Arlene’s death was ordered in 2007 but has been dogged by delays as Howard’s legal team launched a legal challenge claiming it could undermine the trial verdict.
High Court judge Mr Justice Treacy criticised the delay.
Arkinson family barrister Henry Toner QC said they would welcome news that the inquest would be held close to their home.
Another preliminary hearing will take place on October 18.