Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Arlene's family hoping to hear from suspect

The sister of missing Ulster schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson has told how a coroner could hold the key to finally finding out what happened to her.

Kathleen Arkinson, her father and her siblings were speaking today ahead of hearing whether or not an inquest will take place into Arlene's likely death.

And they hoped that Robert Howard - the last man seen with her in August 1994 - will be called to give evidence.

Howard, a convicted rapist and killer, declined to take the stand at his trial for Arlene's murder, of which he was acquitted.

The coroner at a preliminary hearing at Londonderry Courthouse decided today an inquest should take place and Howard would be compelled to testify at it.

John Lecky added that issues such as location and a jury would be decided after a possible second preliminary hearing and that he would also be writing to Howard's legal representatives to inform them of the decision.

Arlene, then 15, was last seen alive in August 14, 1994 with Howard as he gave her a lift home after a night out in Bundoran, Co Donegal.

Howard was acquitted of her murder in May 2005 but extensive searches of bogland in Co Tyrone over the past 13 years have yielded no results.

Kathleen Arkinson told the Belfast Telegraph that she hoped an inquest could help force Howard to reveal what he knows about her disappearance.

"This is very important, it could be our last chance," she said. " We just need Arlene back. She's been gone a long time and we need to get on with our lives.

"We have tried to get speaking to Howard in the past and he has just ignored us.

"We want him to be called as a witness. Maybe then we can find out the truth."

Howard, in prison for the murder of 14-year-old Kent girl Hannah Williams, has maintained his innocence in Arlene's disappearance and suspected murder.

But his 40-year litany of sex crimes was revealed when a sex abuse case against him collapsed in September 2005.

During Howard's trial for the murder of Hannah Williams in 2003, testimony was allowed under 'similar fact' rules, allowing the jury to hear about his sordid past of "grooming" then attacking teenagers.

However, when Howard was tried for Arlene's murder, such evidence was not submitted.

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