Robert Howard in legal bid to mask fact he's child killer from any jury at Arlene Arkinson's inquest
A convicted child killer is fighting to stop the public from knowing of his past crimes during an inquest into the suspected murder of a 15-year-old girl.
Robert Howard's legal team – which is costing the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds – is attempting to have measures imposed to keep his history secret during the forthcoming inquest into Arlene Arkinson's death.
The 15-year-old from Castlederg went missing after a disco in August 1994. Her body has never been found.
In 2005 Howard, the last person to be seen with the schoolgirl, was cleared of her murder.
But the jury was unaware of his history of sex attacks and conviction for murdering south London teenager Hannah Williams. Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey has asked for lawyers' submissions as he deliberates whether the inquest is held before a jury.
Should the jury be granted, Howard wants his conviction for killing the other child kept from them. While an inquest cannot make a definitive finding of responsibility, lawyers for Howard have expressed concern any eventual verdict could potentially make "adverse findings" that would point to some involvement on his part.
Howard fears the prospect of a fresh trial.
There was fury previously when Howard was granted a huge legal aid budget to finance senior counsel to represent him, despite the fact he will appear not as a defendant but a witness.
Last week Karen Quinlivan QC, representing Howard, applied for a court order restricting the reporting of her client's "bad character" during the inquest.
Submissions were due to be heard on that application yesterday, but were put back until the jury issue is resolved.
Last Friday Mr Leckey refused Ms Quinlivan's request for an interim order that would have prevented reporting of the application until it was heard.
The next hearing will take place early next month.
Arlene's sister Kathleen attended yesterday's brief hearing. She said she was "furious and exhausted" by yet further delays and Howard's attempt blindfold the public.
"He kept what he did before secret in 2005; he can't get away with it again," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "We will keep fighting him, for Arlene, and keep putting him into a corner and we won't let it go."
The Belfast Telegraph previously revealed the cost to the public purse to fund his legal team was expected to exceed £100,000.
Howard is serving a life sentence at HMP Frankland in County Durham and has been named as a crucial witness in the inquest.
Last week a barrister for Howard (69) said she did not consider a fixed start date in May as viable due to a range of outstanding problems with the disclosure of papers related to Arlene's disappearance.
The inquest is due to begin on May 12.
STORY SO FAR
Robert Howard wants his previous convictions to be kept from a jury, should one be instructed to hear the forthcoming inquest regarding the suspected murder of Arlene Arkinson. A Coroner's Court does not determine or attribute guilt. Its purpose is to deliberate on the causes and circumstances of a death. Howard is to appear as a witness at the inquest as he was the last to see her alive.