Murderer to appear at Arlene inquest

Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast    20/11/2008'Robert Howard convicted child killer who was cleared of murder of Arlene Arkinson.
Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast 20/11/2008'Robert Howard convicted child killer who was cleared of murder of Arlene Arkinson.

Convicted child rapist and murderer Robert Howard will be called to give evidence in the inquest into the death of the Castlederg schoolgirl he was accused of murdering.

The body of Arlene Arkinson (15), who disappeared after attending a disco in Bundoran, Co Donegal, in 1994 has never been found. Howard was found not guilty of her murder in 2005 but senior Northern Ireland coroner John Leckey said yesterday he would be calling him as a witness at the inquest into Arlene’s death. He added that special measures would have to be taken to secure Howard as he is serving a life sentence in Frankland Prison, Durham, for the rape and murder of 14 year-old Hannah Williams in England.

The preliminary hearing in Belfast, heard that Howard had lodged an appeal challenging a High Court decision allowing the inquest to proceed.

Fiona Doherty, a lawyer for the coroner, said “efforts will be made to ascertain whether that appeal can be expedited”.

Arlene’s sister, Kathleen Arkinson, told the ‘Journal’ yesterday that it was “most important” that Howard would appear at the inquest.

Last December, Mr Justice Seamus Treacy criticised the delay in holding the inquest, which was first ordered in 2007. Howard’s legal team argued that the hearing would be used to attempt to undermine his acquittal.

The inquest is due to get under way next September and is expected to last two months. There is also the potential that the inquest could be delayed by Howard’s appeal and because of an ongoing police investigation.

Henry Toner QC, a barrister representing Arlene’s family, said the grounds for Howard’s appeal were fairly “thin”.

He told the hearing in Belfast: “I do not see it succeeding. That is my professional opinion.”