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Police officer believed killer Robert Howard 'was talking about Arlene Arkinson'

Published 07/03/2016

Arlene Arkinson vanished at the age of 15 in August 1994
Arlene Arkinson vanished at the age of 15 in August 1994

Child killer Robert Howard was haunted by the face of a girl and described his years in Castlederg as a very "dark time", an inquest has been told.

Howard, who is suspected of murdering teenager Arlene Arkinson, also said he thought of the "terrible things" that happened in the Co Tyrone town, every single day.

The claims were made to a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detective who had flown to England to question him about another matter in 1999 - five years after the schoolgirl vanished.

In a statement which was read to the court, Detective Sergeant Trevor Stevenson said: "He (Howard) said that not a day went past that he didn't think about the terrible things which had happened in Castlederg and that he was haunted by it.

"He said he would see a face in the crowd, the face which would remind him of the girl, and bring it all back to him."

The 20 minute conversation took place at Deptford police station in London, while waiting for Howard's solicitor to arrive so he could be questioned about another rape.

Mr Stevenson, who had been stationed in Castlederg between 1994 and 1999, said it had been "intense".

He recalled telling Howard how he believed that in the end, every man had to pay for what they had done.

"He (Howard) said he knew that to be true but was scared of what would happen to him if he told what he had done," the officer said in his statement.

At the time Howard appeared noticeably nervous and used his long fingernails to make dents in the foam cup he was holding, it was claimed.

Although Arlene Arkinson's name was not specifically mentioned, the officer said there was "no doubt" it was the missing schoolgirl they were talking about, adding: "Robert Howard was one of the most evil men I have ever met."

He said: "I believed he was talking about Arlene Arkinson because to be 'haunted' meant they had to be dead.

"To my knowledge she was the only girl he had killed while he was in Castlederg."

Howard also admitted to being a scared coward who was only concerned for himself. He had inquired about incarceration, asking whether life meant life; whether he would be locked in a tiny cell; and whether he could serve a sentence in England, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

If he saw a policeman, Howard said he would cross the road because he always believed they were coming for him, the court heard.

Mr Stevenson said: "He said he believed he needed help but was too scared to take the next step."

The child killer also asked whether fish would have eaten a body dumped in water and was visibly shaken when told that some bodies were well preserved in water.

He replied: "Oh my God", the court was told.

At the time, ongoing searches for Arlene's body were still making news headlines.

Mr Stevenson acknowledged that, being a twisted and manipulating character, Howard may have been trying to throw police off the scent.

"The criminal will always look after himself. Robert Howard was no exception," he said.

"I believed that he knew exactly what we were talking about.

"I believed that he had been responsible. Whether he wanted to give up where the body was, I don't know."

When asked by a lawyer for the Arkinson family if he believed the convicted killer was close to confessing where Arlene's body had been dumped, Mr Stevenson replied: "I don't know.

"His physicality was such of that he was someone doing an awful lot of thinking about what he was saying and about what he might say."

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. 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.

Meanwhile, another PSNI officer who interviewed and charged Howard with murder revealed that on the morning of his remand hearing he had inquired about any bargains that could made.

Detective Inspector Herbert Henderson described a conversation that took place in a cell in Enniskillen court house during which Howard had paced back and forth.

The retired officer said: "He was trying to sound out what guarantees he would have - whether we would be open to him staying in a prison here (Northern Ireland) as opposed to being returned to (HMP) Belmarsh."

No offer was ever made by police.

Earlier, the court heard from Stephen Walsh, a former partner of Arlene's sister Kathleen, who was arrested in 1996 by officers investigating Arlene's disappearance.

Mr Walsh, who was never charged, told the Belfast court he was the victim of a vicious rumour campaign and called for the identity of the person who tipped police off to be made public.

Addressing the coroner Brian Sherrard, he said: "All these allegations were made about me and Kathleen. You know the person that made these allegations.

"It is in those files that nobody can see. Me and Kathleen are entitled to find out who tried to destroy us."

District Judge Sherrard, who has yet to rule on the Public Interest Immunity application, said he would take the comments on board.

Meanwhile, Arlene's family doctor Brendan O'Hare said there was no evidence that Arlene had been pregnant or had miscarried a baby.

The case has been adjourned until Tuesday.

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