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Friend of Arlene Arkinson murder suspect tells inquest he was police informant

Published 25/02/2016

An inquest into the death of schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson is being held
An inquest into the death of schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson is being held

The man suspected of killing schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson was a police informant, an inquest has been told.

The dramatic claim was made by a friend of convicted child killer and rapist Robert Howard - the last person to see the teenager alive in August 1994.

Patricia Quinn also told Belfast coroner's court that when she challenged police about Howard's alleged status years later, an officer had replied: "I put my hands up".

She said: " He was an informer and everybody knows that", adding that she and her daughter were "scapegoats for the police".

"That's why they put him in my house - to keep an eye on him and then me and Donna (Quinn) are scapegoats for the police - for the CID."

The long delayed inquest is in its eighth day of evidence at the Laganside court complex.

It emerged that Ms Quinn, a mother of three, had provided a bail address for Howard when he was accused of a serious sex attack on a teenage girl in 1993.

He had lived in their house and slept in Ms Quinn's bed but she strongly refuted any suggestion they were a couple.

In an angry outburst she told the court: "The CID let him into my house knowing what he was.

"I didn't know what he was like at that time, but they knew."

Ms Quinn conceded she had not been pressurised by police but believed Howard had another girlfriend in Antrim or Armagh who may have been able to accommodate him.

"It was the CID who asked me," she added. "They asked me would I let him out on bail and now I know why.

"When they asked me, I thought that he was all right."

Judge Brian Sherrard, who is presiding over the high profile case, has yet to rule on a controversial police request not to disclose some confidential information to the inquest.

Grounds for Public Interest Immunity application include matters of national security or the protection of police methodologies such as the use of informers.

And w hile the Government has obtained such immunity on sensitive papers relating to legacy terrorist cases in Northern Ireland, doubt surrounds why such issues would be at play during an inquest into the death of a missing schoolgirl.

Judge Sherrard said the contentious issue was expected to be dealt with when the case resumes next week.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal on August 13, 1994.

Robert 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.

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

Meanwhile, it also emerged that Howard did not return home until 9am on the morning after he was last seen with Arlene.

He told Pat Quinn not to say he had been out, it was claimed.

Ms Quinn, who was later arrested and interviewed by detectives investigating the teenager's disappearance, said lying was the "stupidest" thing she had ever done.

"It was the biggest mistake of my life," she said. "I have regretted it since."

When pressed by a lawyer about her reasons for not telling the truth, she added: "He was out on bail in my house and if he broke his bail that was it. He was not supposed to be out past 9 or 10pm.

"It would be me get into trouble, too.

"But I know now it was stupid. I shouldn't have done it but it's no good pretending anything else."

The court was told that several days after Arlene's disappearance, two of her brothers and sister went to the Quinn family home to enquire about her whereabouts but were told nothing.

A short time later, police were on the case.

Ms Quinn added: "I did not know what to believe when the police came but I knew something was badly wrong."

Barrister, Frank O'Donoghue QC, counsel for the Coroners Service, asked if she had thought Howard killed the schoolgirl.

"You had a man in your house who you knew was a paedophile; who you knew was attracted to young girls and who told you not to say that he was out on the Saturday night and had been in Arlene's company when she was last seen."

"Did you think at that time, when the Arkinsons came through your door, did you think 'he's killed her? he said.

Ms Quinn replied: "I did not know what to think.

"I was that shocked that she was not back; that she was missing."

On a number of occasions, Ms Quinn insisted she was being as helpful as possible to the inquest and said she hoped Arlene's body would be found.

In 1994, she claimed to have been fond of Howard in 1994 because he had been good to her .

It was claimed they "kissed and cuddled" occasionally and that Howard had slept in her bed but there was no sexual contact.

She had never seen him with his clothes off, the court was told.

Ms Quinn said: "I never had no relationship with him and I want that clear today."

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the inquest was told that police had been tipped off that Ms Quinn and Robert Howard were seen in a forest with spades after Arlene went missing.

Ms Quinn insisted the pair had never gone out digging.

"No, definitely not and that's the honest to God's truth. I never went out with him that way," she said.

The case has been adjourned.

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