Northern Ireland

Arlene Arkinson inquest 'crying out for closure'

Arlene Arkinson
Image caption Arlene Arkinson was 15 when she went missing in 1994, shortly after getting into a car with Robert Howard

The delay in concluding the inquest of murdered teenager Arlene Arkinson is making life "very difficult" for her family, a coroner's court has heard.

A lawyer representing the County Tyrone schoolgirl's family said they were struggling to explain why the case had effectively ground to a halt.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene from Castlederg, vanished after a night out in 1994.

She was last seen with child killer Robert Howard, who died in 2015.

The family's lawyer 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 is finding life very, very difficult.

"This inquest is crying out for closure".

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

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 (Irish police), searches carried out south of the border, and a purported meeting between Gardai and the former girlfriend of Robert Howard.

Garda officers may also be asked to give oral evidence.

The Arkinson family were not in court for the hearing but their barrister said they would attend in June.

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 judge presiding over the long-running inquest, urged the Irish authorities to urgently deal with the case.

"It would be useful if the family were here on the next occasion so I can spell out 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."

The inquest has been adjourned until June.

'Not giving up hope'

Image caption Howard was found not guilty of Arlene's murder after a trial in 2005

Speaking afterwards from her home in Castlederg, Arlene's sister Kathleen said the stress of the case had taken its toll.

"I feel like my life is on hold but we are not going to give up our hope of getting justice for Arlene," she said.

Howard was acquitted of the teenager's murder by a jury that was unaware of his previous conviction for murdering 14-year-old Hannah Williams, whose body was found in an industrial area close to the Thames Estuary.

Howard always remained the prime suspect in the Arkinson case.

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