The sister of murdered Northern Ireland schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson has launched a stinging attack on the Gardaí, accusing them of obstructing an inquest into her sister’s death.
Making a direct appeal for the Garda Commissioner to hand over potentially key information, Kathleen Arkinson hit out at the perceived procrastination and delay preventing the case from concluding.
Ms Arkinson said she felt the justice system has failed her family in every way.
Kathleen Arkinson, sister of murdered Northern Ireland schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson, outside Belfast Coroner’s Court.
"We have done everything we can and we are still here a year and a half later for an inquest for one child who was 15 years old.
"I would appeal to Noirin O’Sullivan to please look into this as soon as possible because it is dragging our lives away.
"We can’t go on like this forever."
The inquest, which opened in February 2016, has been stalled for months to facilitate the sharing of information from legal authorities in the Republic.
The material includes papers on the lines of inquiry pursued by the Gardai, searches carried out south of the border and a purported meeting between gardai and the former girlfriend of Robert Howard, the prime suspect in the murder.
Garda officers may also be asked to give oral evidence.
During a preliminary hearing at Belfast’s Coroner’s Court Judge Brian Sherrard moved to allay any conspiracy theories.
He said: "The delay that has been caused is not because this court harbours any concerns about the family whatsoever.
"In terms of rumour or suspicion, I can put that to bed straight away. The delay in this case is purely because we are awaiting a comprehensive response from An Garda Siochana."
Arlene, 15, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out across the border in Co Donegal in August 1994.
She was last seen being driven down a country road by Howard, a convicted paedophile with a lengthy criminal history.
Despite extensive searches, including a fresh dig in Tyrone last year, her body has never been found.
The inquest opened in February 2016 and has heard evidence from dozens of witnesses including Howard’s former girlfriend Patricia Quinn, and senior detectives who worked on the case.
Information from the Gardai has been described as the last piece of the jigsaw and the coroner mooted Halloween as a potential deadline for closing the inquest.
"After we get to that point then the balance will be tilting towards decision rather than further delay," added Judge Sherrard.
The Arkinson family have closely followed proceedings and were in court for the brief hearing.
Their barrister Henry Toner QC expressed frustration and demanded an explanation for the 13-month delay from An Garda Siochana.
Mr Toner said: "It is an insult to the Arkinson family who are suffering misery by these delays which are inexcusable and unwarranted.
"The family is appalled and deeply upset by the failure of the Garda to assist either properly or at all.
"They believe that the delay and procrastination adds to the rumour and suspicion that already exists in relation to Arlene’s murder.
"It is important that the Garda is held to account."
Meanwhile, in a statement read out afterwards, Kathleen Arkinson said: "The Arkinson family are appalled and deeply upset as a result of exquisite cruelty inflicted unnecessarily upon them by the Garda in not assisting the coroner’s court properly or at all.
"The Arkinson family wonder what the Garda have to hide in relation to Robert Howard, their association with him and others who associate with him.
"The Arkinson family believe that the investigation into the murder of Arlene, a 15-year-old child, should not be delayed further by the Garda.
"The Arkinson family call upon Garda chief Noirin O’Sullivan to personally intervene in this case.
"They plead with the Garda chief to instruct her officers who possess all relevant information in relation to Robert Howard and the murder of Arlene to release this information immediately to His Honour Judge Sherrard so that the inquest into Arlene’s death can be concluded."
The case has been adjourned for mention in September.
- Reporting: Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association