A coroner is to rule on whether an inquest verdict in the case of a murdered schoolgirl, who was last seen alive with a convicted child killer, can point to the involvement of any individual.
Northern Ireland’s senior coroner John Leckey has asked for lawyers’ submissions as he deliberates whether the inquest into the death of 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson from Co Tyrone is held before a jury.
Arlene, from Castlederg, went missing in August 1994 after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal. Her body has never been found.
In 2005 convicted child killer Robert Howard, who was the last person seen with her, was found not guilty of murder. The trial jury was unaware of his history of sex attacks and conviction for murdering south London teenager Hannah Williams in 2001.
The 69-year-old, who is serving a life sentence at HMP Frankland in County Durham, has been named as a witness in the long-delayed inquest, which is scheduled to start on May 12 - almost seven years after it was first ordered.
While an inquest cannot make a definitive finding of responsibility, lawyers for Howard have expressed concern any eventual verdict could potentially make “adverse findings” that would point to some involvement on his part.
Addressing lawyers at a preliminary hearing in Belfast’s Coroner’s Court, Mr Leckey said the issues around the form of a verdict had potential ramifications for other inquests.
“They touch not only on this inquest but touch on other inquests yet to be held,” he said.
Karen Quinlivan QC, representing Howard, said she would like to follow up written submissions with the opportunity to present oral arguments on the matter at the next preliminary inquest.
“We would like to be heard before you finalise your ruling,” she told the coroner.
Last week Ms Quinlivan applied for a court order restricting the reporting of her client’s ‘bad character’ during the inquest.
Submissions were due to be heard on that application today (Friday), but have been put back until the jury issue is resolved.
Last Friday Mr Leckey refused Ms Quinlivan’s request for an interim order that would have prevented reporting of the application until it was heard.