Child-killer Robert Howard responsible for death of schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson, inquest concludes


Convicted child-killer Robert Howard was responsible, on the balance of probabilities, for the death of schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson, a coroner has found.

Howard, originally from Co Laois, was charged with the murder of Arlene Arkinson in 2002, but acquitted in 2005.

He died in prison custody in England in 2015 while serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Hannah Williams from London.

Arlene Arkinson went missing in August 1994 when she was 15 years old after a night out in the Irish town of Donegal and her body has never been found, despite extensive searches.

Following a long-running inquest, coroner Brian Sherrard, at Omagh courthouse, found that she died on the morning of Sunday August 14, 1994.

Arlene Arkinson

A coroner has ruled, on the basis of probabilities, that convicted child killer Robert Howard was responsible for the death of 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson who went missing in 1994

‘There is no record of her being alive after that date,’ he said.

‘Robert Howard, a violent sexual offender, and the last person to be seen with Arlene in the early hours of August 14, 1994, was responsible for her death.

‘The mechanism of death is unknown.

‘The court is confident of the date of death as Howard began establishing an alibi from the morning of August 14, 1994 at a time when Arlene’s disappearance had not become known.’

The coroner also ruled that the death happened in Northern Ireland but the precise location remains unknown.

Pictured: Hannah Williams who was murdered by Robert Howard

Pictured: Hannah Williams who was murdered by Robert Howard

‘However the court is confident that Arlene’s remains were secreted in this jurisdiction,’ he added.

The coroner noted ‘quasi admissions’ by Howard, such as his inquiries to a number of police officers about serving his sentence in Northern Ireland if he admitted to certain things.

He also made comments to officers about needing help but being afraid to take the next step, living in fear, crossing the road when he saw a police officer, being haunted and seeing a face in a crowd and being reminded of the girl.

The coroner to the court they ‘fell short of a confession but indicate culpability’.

Reacting to the coroner’s ruling, Ms Arkinson’s sister Kathleen said there was now no doubt Robert Howard murdered her.

Ms Arkinson, who also alleged that that Howard had been working as a state agent, called for a public inquiry into his activities in Northern Ireland.

‘This was a 14-year-old inquest, nearly as long as Arlene’s life,’ she said.

‘An inquest that Howard and the state never wanted. It was opened in November 2007 and only finishes today.

‘Twenty-seven years on from Arlene’s murder, I am still searching for her body. What else can I do? What else would anyone expect me to do? Despite what has happened, I have placed my faith in our justice system and went with it. 

Kathleen Arkinson, sister of murdered schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson, and solicitor Des Doherty speaking after a coroner delivered his findings outside Omagh Courthouse in County Tyrone

Kathleen Arkinson, sister of murdered schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson, and solicitor Des Doherty speaking after a coroner delivered his findings outside Omagh Courthouse in County Tyrone

Ms Arkinson, 15, was last seen alive on Sunday August 14, 1994 in a car with Howard.

The St Eugene’s High School student, whose mother had died in 1990, was noted as being known to social services, but the coroner paid tribute to the commitment by her six older siblings to her welfare as ‘truly remarkable’.

‘Twenty-seven years on from Arlene’s murder, I am still searching for my sister’s body’

Reacting to the coroner’s ruling, Arlene Arkinson’s sister Kathleen said there was now no doubt Robert Howard murdered her.

Ms Arkinson, who also alleged that Howard had been working as a state agent, called for a public inquiry into his activities in Northern Ireland.

‘This was a 14-year-old inquest, nearly as long as Arlene’s life,’ she said.

‘An inquest that Howard and the state never wanted. It was opened in November 2007 and only finishes today.

‘Twenty-seven years on from Arlene’s murder, I am still searching for her body.

‘What else can I do? What else would anyone expect me to do? Despite what has happened, I have placed my faith in our justice system and went with it.

‘Therefore I appeal to the Justice Minister (Naomi Long) to examine Arlene’s case carefully.

‘When she does, she will see that the need for a public inquiry into the activities of Robert Howard in this jurisdiction and his status as an agent for the RUC, which has led to death and misery for many people, will be unavoidable.

‘I guarantee that the more [the minister] looks into Arlene’s case, the more outraged and terrified she will be on behalf of the public.

‘But, above all, I want a Christian burial for my sister. In seeking the truth, through public inquiry, maybe I will achieve that.’

The inquest, which has been running since 2016, was described as having ‘re-energised’ police investigations on both sides of the border.

Mr Sherrard said the findings of the inquest had originally been scheduled to be delivered in March 2020, but were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other issues.

The coroner dismissed several rumours from the time of Ms Arkinson’s disappearance, including that she had left Castlederg voluntarily, that she had been suicidal or had been pregnant.

He also dispelled any suggestion that members of Ms Arkinson’s family had been involved in her murder.

Concluding his findings, he said: ‘I would like to reflect on Arlene, who would now be a woman in her 40s, and it is a matter of profound regret that Arlene did not get to live her life and to live to her full potential.

‘And I would also like to reflect on the very grave injustice that has been done ultimately to the Arkinson family due to the actions of Robert Howard.

‘I would like to reflect on the exhaustive manner in which Kathleen (Arlene’s sister) in particular has driven this case from the first days after the disappearance right through to today, and that is remarkable and Arlene herself has been served exceptionally well by her family in the intervening 27 years.’

Robert Howard was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Hannah Williams in October 2003.

Hannah disappeared near her home in Deptford, south east London, in 2001 and her badly-decomposed body was found dumped in a disused cement works a year later. 

Howard, who strangled Hannah with a 12-metre rope, had a string of sex offence convictions.

He was on bail for a series of violent sexual offences against a teenage girl at the time Arlene disappeared. 

In 1995, he was convicted of having unlawful sex with a girl under 17, but was given a three-year sentence suspended for five years – meaning he was at liberty when he killed Miss Williams.

A 16-year-old had alleged that during a two-day ordeal, Howard drugged, stripped and repeatedly raped her while a noose was tied round her neck. He claimed she consented.

After he was cleared of murdering Arlene Arkinson, it was reported detectives were keen to question the killer over the suspected murders of as many as 15 other women.

However, no other charges were ever brought against him. 

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