Arlene Arkinson 'told friends she might be pregnant,' court told
MISSING schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson confided in friends she may have been pregnant, a coroners' court has been told.
On the evening of her disappearance in August 1994, the 15-year-old told friends that the father was a person close to the Arkinson family, the court heard.
The revelation was made during the opening of a long-awaited inquest at Belfast's Laganside court complex.
Frank O'Donoghue QC, counsel for the coroners service said: "She was confiding in some friends that she was pregnant and that the father was a person closely connected but not a member of the Arkinson family."
Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out at a disco in Co Donegal in 1994.
She was last seen with convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died in prison last year.
Howard was acquitted of the teenager's murder by a jury that was unaware of his previous conviction for murdering schoolgirl Hannah Williams, 14, in south London.
He always remained the police's prime suspect in the Arkinson case.
The court heard how Arlene had a troubled background following the death of her mother when she was aged 11.
Her father struggled with an alcohol addiction and she had lived with a number of elder siblings.
The court was also told how Arlene had been sexually abused by her brother-in-law Seamus McGale who was convicted and jailed in 1993.
He was released 10 days before she vanished, it was claimed.
School teachers described her as an "intelligent and well liked pupil" but said her poor attendance was likely to hold her back, Mr O'Donoghue said.
The inquest process has been plagued by hold-ups, many due to the length of time police have taken to disclose classified papers to the court.
Not all documents have been handed over and last week it emerged that a government minister has signed off on a bid to withhold some top-secret files amid apparent concerns they could harm the public interest.
Northern Ireland Office minister Ben Wallace has approved the public interest immunity (PII) application. The final decision on whether it will be granted rests with the coroner, Judge Brian Sherrard.
He is set to hear legal submissions on the PII application on Tuesday, with at least part of the hearing due to be held behind closed doors.
Howard, 71, had also been due to give evidence before the inquest. He died at HMP Frankland in Co Durham last October.
The inquest is being heard without a jury, with proceedings streamed to Omagh courthouse in Co Tyrone for the missing teenager's family.
Speaking ahead of the hearing, Kathleen Arkinson described her sister as a "blue-eyed girl".
Choking back tears, she said: "Mummy passed away when Arlene was 11 and Arlene was just the blue-eyed girl of the family. She was brilliant at art, she was good at school. I want people to know the real Arlene. She was our sister and she deserves to be found."
Ms Arkinson added that she hoped the long awaited inquest would help "ease" the family's pain.