Northern Ireland news

Delays in progressing Arlene Arkinson inquest 'frustrating', says family lawyer

The body of Arlene Arkinson has never been found
By Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

DELAYS in progressing an inquest for missing teenager Arlene Arkinson are beyond frustrating, a lawyer for the schoolgirl's family has said.

Henry Toner QC levied his criticism towards the authorities in the Republic who have yet to provide material to the long-running inquiry.

He said: "This delay is beyond frustrating. We are four months since the last substantive hearing and still there is no timescale from Dublin."

Arlene (15), from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out in Co Donegal.

She was last seen being driven down a country road by convicted paedophile and child killer Robert Howard.

He was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury not told of his lengthy criminal past which included the murder of south London teenager Hannah Williams several years earlier.

At a preliminary hearing at Belfast's Laganside Court complex, it emerged that representatives from the Garda , the Republic's Chief State Solicitors' Office and Department of Justice and Equality had met with counsel for the coroner Judge Brian Sherrard last week.

But, despite almost daily correspondence a timescale for delivery of any documentation has still not been confirmed.

Barrister Fiona Doherty QC said: "The various authorities in Dublin are very keen to cooperate with this inquest and are keen to facilitate whatever requests [the coroner] may have.

"We had hoped and were told at the meeting that a timescale for that documents procedure would be available for the court but unfortunately we do not have that."

The court was told that the material would have to be considered for potential relevance before being presented as evidence at the inquest which opened in February.

During a previous court hearing Judge Sherrard slammed the the level of red tape hampering cross-border cooperation.

However,the Republic's justice minister Frances Fitzgerald has since authorised legislative changes which paved the way for the sharing of information.

Adjourning the inquest until later this month, Judge Sherrard said: "I still feel this is worthwhile, particularly for us to go forward.

"This is one part of the inquest where the process is really important to everybody.

"This is an opportunity to open this matter up, not just for the family, but for the community as a whole.

"This is one particular area that light needs to be shone on, and we are in a process that will allow us to do that in due course."

The inquest will resume on October 28.

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