Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Robert Howard said he would get away with murder, Arlene Arkinson inquest told

Published 08/03/2016

Arlene Arkinson was last seen with Robert Howard (family handout/PA Wire)
Arlene Arkinson was last seen with Robert Howard (family handout/PA Wire)

The man accused of killing schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson boasted about getting away with murder, a coroner's court has been told.

Robert Howard joked with workmates on a building site a year before the teenager vanished that he knew how to dispose of a body.

Contractor Mervyn Finlay, who employed the paedophile for about six weeks in 1993, said in a statement read to the court: "He said if he killed somebody he would not be caught because he knew how to get rid of a body."

Mr Finlay told police about the content of the conversation in 2002 after hearing Howard had been charged with murder and that Arlene's body had not been found.

At the time, it appeared Howard was "boasting", he added.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene from Castlederg, Co Tyrone disappeared in August 1994. She went missing after a night out at a disco across the border in Co Donegal.

She was last seen with Howard, who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his conviction for killing a schoolgirl in South London.

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

Despite extensive searches her body has still not been found.

Mr Finlay's statement was among a number that were read out and admitted in evidence to the inquest which is now in its third week.

Other witnesses claimed Howard had substances capable of burning skin and dissolving bones.

John Galbraith, who also worked on the building sites, said he had seen lots of old medicine bottles and jars filled with liquids lying about a shed at the rear of Howard's flat on Main Street in Castlederg.

Howard had told him he had "plenty of chemicals that would melt bones or steel," it was claimed.

On one occasion Mr Galbraith's girlfriend accidentally knocked over a medicine bottle filled with a hazardous liquid which fizzed and melted the metal it spilled onto, the court heard.

Among the other statements admitted in evidence came one from a former prisoner who shared the hospital wing of Belfast's Crumlin Road jail alongside Howard in 1993.

John Taggart said the child killer had described being able to manipulate the prison authorities by feigning claustrophobia to avoid being locked up in a small cell.

He also appeared "fixated" on a teenage girl whom he had befriended and after one visit, Howard came back in a "fit of rage" vowing to commit murder.

"He said I am going to commit murder and I will be back here (jail) in six months," according to Mr Taggart.

Meanwhile, a former top detective, who led the investigation into Arlene's disappearance, will be allowed to give his evidence via Skype.

Retired chief superintendent Eric Anderson has previously cited ill health for non appearance at other high profile inquests, but a change in the legislation last month means he could be compelled to appear.

Despite objections from a lawyer for the Arkinson family, the coroner said he was content that a "degree of special" measure should be afforded to the former Royal Ulster Constabulary officer, in light of medical evidence.

However, Henry Toner QC, representing the Arkinsons, protested.

He said powers of cross examination were substantially "reduced" if the witness was not actually in the box, adding that little weight should be given to some of the medical documents.

The barrister also said he wanted Mr Anderson to watch extracts from television documentary in which he appeared to offer documents related to the Arkinson case for sale, for £700.

Mr Toner added: "There are serious issues I want to cross examine Mr Anderson about. It is unfortunate, for him and us, that it appears he will not be able to physically attend."

There was also some legal discussion around disclosing the name of a person whose anonymous tip-off led to police searching the home of Arlene's sister Kathleen.

Kevin Rooney QC, barrister for the Police Service of Northern Ireland told the court that, although officers met with the informant, they did not know the identity or address.

The lawyer said: "Police must be able to protect their sources. If they do not get information from the public their means of investigation will simply dry up.

"It is vitally important that they retain that status," the lawyer said.

The dispute around the disclosure of sensitive information from police files was also briefly discussed.

The coroner has yet to rule on the PSNI's public interest immunity application but said in this case that redactions were "modest" with only individual names, phrases or single words blanked out.

No full files have been withheld, the court was told.

The case has been adjourned until Wednesday.

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph