Coroner seeking `precise answers´ in Arlene Arkinson probe

A coroner in Northern Ireland has said he is seeking “precise” answers about a grave exhumed in the search for a missing schoolgirl.

Brian Sherrard has received confirmation that remains removed from the Co Sligo plot are not those of Arlene Arkinson.

Arlene, 15, from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out in Co Donegal in the Irish Republic in 1994. She was last seen in the company of a convicted child killer, the late Robert Howard.

Howard was always the prime suspect.

Discussion about communication between the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Garda over the grave has been adjourned to another preliminary inquest hearing in Belfast later this month.

Mr Sherrard said: “We will need to have a substantive discussion about… issues surrounding the grave and in order to do that we will need some precise information as to what was in the grave or was found there.”

Counsel to the coroner Ronan Daly said materials had been compiled following ongoing communication between the two forces, but last-minute legal issues had arisen.

He added: “Rather than dealing with the matter in a piecemeal fashion it is agreed between counsel that a hearing on Friday morning 14 September at 9.30am [will] facilitate proper exploration of the issues.”

The Co Sligo grave was exhumed by gardai in March, almost 20 years after a priest received an anonymous tip-off that a body wrapped in plastic sheeting found buried just below the surface could have been Arlene.

Gravediggers found the body 2ft to 3ft down when opening the grave for another burial in 1996, but subsequently reburied it.

The phone call to the priest came in 1999. He informed gardai, but they did not pursue an exhumation at the time.

Around that time, a woman also wrote to a priest to say she had heard that, shortly after Arlene’s 1994 disappearance, a man had persuaded some gravediggers to bury Arlene’s body in a grave they were digging for a conventional burial.

At a previous hearing of the inquest, Mr Sherrard was told that the remains examined belonged to an adult male, not a young girl.

He said gardai needed to clarify whether there was an additional body in the grave, other than the four formally registered as being buried there.

The coroner said he also needed to know whether all of the remains found in the plot had been examined, or just one.

Highlighting that he has no authority to demand information from the Garda, he asked that PSNI officers ask counterparts south of the border for co-operation in “filling in the blanks”.

Howard died in prison in 2015.

He was acquitted of Arlene’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 in 2002.

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