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Child killer Robert Howard compared to Pied Piper at inquest for murdered Arlene

Published 03/03/2016

Robert Howard remained the prime suspect in the Arlene Arkinson case until his death in prison last year
Robert Howard remained the prime suspect in the Arlene Arkinson case until his death in prison last year

Child killer and rapist Robert Howard has been likened to the Pied Piper during an inquest for a murdered Northern Ireland schoolgirl.

Heather Moore, a former district nurse, described how children used to flock to his flat in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, at weekends.

She told Belfast coroner's court: "There were so many of them.

"He was like the Pied Piper on a Saturday.

"It must have been the place to go to on a Saturday for the young ones."

The inquest is probing the disappearance of 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson from Castlederg who vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal on August 13 1994. Her body has never been found.

Howard was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his conviction for killing a south London teenager several years earlier.

But the 71-year-old remained the prime suspect in the Arkinson case until his death in prison last year.

Ms Moore worked in Castlederg for more than 25 years and lived next door to Howard at Main Street in the town.

She was not aware of his violent history and found him polite in any brief dealings.

The court heard that Howard would have bought sweets from a nearby shop and let youngsters ride his motorbike or, in later years, taken them out in his blue Metro car.

"He bought sweets and he obviously was giving them to the children and he would have let them ride on his motorbike behind him. He was good to them in many ways," added Ms Moore, who has since retired.

It was also claimed that Patricia Quinn, who has previously denied being a girlfriend of Howard, was a frequent visitor to his flat - on an almost daily basis, according to Ms Moore.

"I never saw many adults around, only Pat," said Ms Moore, adding that she did see Arlene Arkinson going into the property on occasions but never on her own.

It was clear Howard and Ms Quinn were boyfriend and girlfriend, the court was told.

Ms Moore said: "It was obvious, really.

"She would have been there early in the morning, knocking to get in.

"He might not have answered the door for a while and she would have knocked louder and louder.

"You do not visit people at that time in the morning - it was around 9am.

"I would have thought the youngsters would have been put to school and she would have come down to Howard."

On one occasion it was claimed a blazing row erupted when Ms Quinn found her daughter Donna skipping school at Howard's flat.

Ms Moore recalled seeing the schoolgirl being frogmarched out by her mother who was shouting and cursing.

"It was a big row," she added.

Meanwhile, in a statement, Ms Moore also claimed to have seen Donna Quinn at Howard's flat on August 14 1994 - a day after Arlene went missing.

When asked about the reliability of her recollection, she replied: "I would have to say there could be some doubt because all the young ones look similar but I thought it was Donna."

In her evidence, Ms Quinn claimed to have been at Altnagelvin hospital at the time.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, representing the Coroners Service said: "Donna, in her evidence, said that she was visiting a sick relative of her boyfriend in Altnagelvin that afternoon and was not in the vicinity of the flat that afternoon."

Later, the inquest heard evidence from a close friend and cousin of the missing teenager.

Lynette Edgar recalled being in Howard's flat a number of times with friends and said they had played a game of hide and seek.

She was wary of him and had warned Arlene also to be on her guard.

"I knew not to be on my own," said Ms Edgar

"I had said to Arlene. I warned her to be careful as I thought he was a little strange. She also told me that she was warned to be careful of him by family members."

Ms Edgar, who was a year older than Arlene, dismissed claims she may have been pregnant as unfounded rumours.

"I never believed that Arlene was pregnant. We were teenagers.

"You said something, more or less, to see who we could trust. If you said something and then heard it back, then you couldn't trust that person. We were teenage girls."

Meanwhile, Henry Toner QC, barrister for the Arkinson family, called for outstanding police papers to be handed over.

The lawyer described it as extraordinary that the documentation which includes analysis of police actions between 1994 and 1998 and a current situation report have not been received, even though the inquest has been running for two weeks.

Adjourning the case until next week, Coroner Brian Sherrard said he would "encourage" the disclosure of the police documents.

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