Northern Ireland

Arlene Arkinson inquest told red tape stopping Dublin officials giving evidence

Arlene Arkinson disappeared after attending a disco in Bundoran, Co Donegal, in 1994
Arlene Arkinson disappeared after attending a disco in Bundoran, Co Donegal, in 1994 Arlene Arkinson disappeared after attending a disco in Bundoran, Co Donegal, in 1994

RED tape is barring officials from Dublin giving evidence to the inquest of missing teenager Arlene Arkinson, a coroner's court has heard.

Judge Brian Sherrard expressed dissatisfaction at continuing delays which are stalling the conclusion of the long-running inquest.

He told Belfast Coroner's Court: "I am disappointed that we are still at this stage having been in correspondence with An Garda Siochana for quite some time."

Fifteen-year-old Arlene Arkinson from Castlederg in Co Tyrone vanished in August 1994 after a night out in Co Donegal.

She was last seen being driven off down a country road late at night by convicted child killer Robert Howard.

He was acquitted of the schoolgirl's murder in 2005 by a jury not told about his lengthy criminal history which included killing another teenager, Hannah Williams, in south London several years earlier.

Arlene's body has never been found despite extensive searches.

Howard remained the prime suspect in the unsolved case until his death in an English prison last year.

During the brief hearing the Arkinson family barrister Henry Toner QC said they too were frustrated by the hold-ups.

"The family are disappointed and disturbed at this," the lawyer said.

"Particularly after what they regard as the positive achievements that have flowed from the inquest.

"We call on An Garda Siochana and all other relevant authorities to produce results.

"Blandishments about co-operation mean nothing without results."

The full inquest formally opened in February after years of delay and dozens of preliminary hearings.

Testimony from Garda witnesses could bring the oral evidence sessions to a close.

Mr Sherrard said: "We should re-double our efforts concerning trying to get information and appearances from witnesses in order that we can properly put a full stop under hearing evidence."

However ongoing correspondence with An Garda Siochana and the State Solicitor's Office in Dublin has yielded little, the court heard.

Fiona Doherty QC, representing the coroner, said: "There are certain formalities that have to be gone through to allow for the sharing of information with you (coroner).

"These formalities are in hand. They are progressing but sadly not at the pace that you (coroner) expected or hoped for."

The most recent letter was sent to Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan last week but there has been no response as yet, it was revealed.

Mr Sherrard added: "If there is anything I can do to try and expedite this particular process, I am quite happy to meet representatives from An Garda Siochana or the State Solicitor's Office in an attempt to find a way through any red tape that seems to be barring their way."

The hearing has been adjourned until September 19.