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How did Robert Howard get away with murdering Arlene Arkinson? Documentary explores missed opportunities

By Staff Reporter

Published 14/10/2015

Robert Howard (pictured) was the only suspect in Arlene Arkinson’s death
Robert Howard (pictured) was the only suspect in Arlene Arkinson’s death
Robert Howard was the only suspect in (pictured) Arlene Arkinson’s death

A damning documentary probing the police investigation into Robert Howard has raised more questions over how he got away with the murder of a Northern Ireland teenager.

Last night's BBC Spotlight programme listed a catalogue of errors and questionable decisions taken by the authorities over prosecuting Howard, who died aged 71 earlier this month in a jail in England.

The programme contained harrowing interviews with victims of the Laois-born killer and their relatives.

Priscilla Gahan was groomed by Howard, and was later raped by him over a period of days in a Castlederg flat. But although he was arrested for this crime, Howard was eventually charged with a lesser offence and given a suspended sentence. Priscilla was not believed, and her ordeal was played down.

This was one missed opportunity to take Howard off the streets, the programme claimed.

The programme also interviewed former Detective Chief Inspector Colin Murray of Kent Police, investigating officer into the rape and murder of Kent schoolgirl Hanna Williams (14).

Mr Murray alleged there had been obstruction of his investigation by the PSNI, who tried to block his plan to meet the family of 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson, the Castlederg teenager who disappeared in 1994. "They just didn't want me to meet (the Arkinsons)," the ex-detective said.

But when he did meet the family, he said "they asked me questions that struck me as questions the PSNI should have been answering over the years. Rightly or wrongly, they felt that the PSNI were just not interested in them."

Mr Murray was convinced Howard's behaviour in Northern Ireland would demonstrate a pattern that would secure his conviction for the Williams murder. Ms Gahan testified at the Williams murder trial and Howard was convicted.

The Arkinson family have always been convinced Arlene was abducted and murdered by Howard. "The law failed his victims," said former RUC and PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter.

Mr Baxter also revealed that Howard - already in Wormwood Scrubs jail for the murder of Ms Williams - was on the brink of offering to locate Arlene's body in return for a transfer to Maghaberry, where he believed he would have an easier time.

But the killer changed his mind and took his secrets to the grave.

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