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Arlene Arkinson: Social services alerted police to possible relationship with Robert Howard

By Lesley-Ann McKeown

Published 18/02/2016

Arlene Arkinson vanished in 1994
Arlene Arkinson vanished in 1994
Arlene Arkinson's sister Kathleen arrives for the start of the inquest
Child killer Robert Howard

Police were alerted by social services to a possible relationship between schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson and the man suspected of killing her, a coroners' court heard today.

Handwritten police notes read out during the fourth day of the long awaited inquest at Belfast's Laganside Court revealed that a social worker had confirmed the pair were, at least, known to each other - a few days after she went missing in August 1994.

The information was recorded by Detective Constable Gareth Jenkins, then a young constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, tasked with investigating the teenager's disappearance.

He said the Omagh-based social worker had confirmed that a "relationship existed".

But Mr Jenkins added: "What sort of relationship that was, without having anything written down, it would be unfair to comment further."

Arlene, a 15-year-old from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in 1994. Her body has never been found.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died in prison last year.

Despite being acquitted of the murder by a jury unaware of his long record of sex crimes - including the murder of a south London schoolgirl, Howard always remained the police's prime suspect.

The court also heard that social services found Arlene had a poor attendance at school, was a smoker and drinker who did not go anywhere without make-up or money and who "looked about 19 years old".

There was also a brief mention of a "relationship" with a second older man.

At the time she was living with her brother Martin Arkinson in Castlederg and had on occasion gone missing, staying with her alcoholic father or another relative. However, she had always made contact within 48 hours.

After two days, family members told social services that Arlene was missing, but it took two more days before police were informed, the court heard.

The initial missing person investigation had two main lines of inquiry - that Arlene had travelled to Birmingham to obtain an abortion or that Robert Howard was involved.

Although he was aware Howard had been on bail for serious sexual offences Mr Jenkins said he was unsure whether he was still signing bail when the schoolgirl vanished.

"It was not a criminal investigation at this stage where I had taken my initial answers," he said. "It was not solely focused on Robert Howard. It also focused on the possible travel to England."

The police investigation was heavily scrutinised during Robert Howard's trial.

Mr Jenkins said he had done everything possible but, as a junior officer, could not decide the course of an investigation.

"As a uniformed officer, when I reported that to CID that was almost upping the ante; upping the level," he said. "I had raised my concerns about irregularities in the accounts that the three or four people had given."

Mr Jenkins later added: "I did everything I thought I could as a uniformed officer at that time. I raised concerns with the criminal investigations department."

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