Belfast Telegraph

Suspect confessed to killing girl aged six, says witness

By Michael McHugh

The chief suspect in the killing of Co Tyrone teenager Arlene Arkinson confessed to murdering a six-year-old girl, a witness told an inquest.

Robert Howard claimed he served six years in prison for the murder, according to a neighbour.

He alleged he was living in a caravan in Castlederg in the early 1990s because he could not go home to the Irish Republic.

There is no record of his conviction claims, a lawyer for the coroner said yesterday. Arlene (15) left her Castlederg home for a disco in Co Donegal in August 1994, her sister Kathleen Arkinson said.

She had one Irish pound in her pocket. The schoolgirl was never seen again.

Schoolchildren allegedly saw Arlene getting into Howard's car, Kathleen said.

Neighbour Bernadette Timoney told the inquest that she was frightened of Howard. "Once Howard mentioned he had been in prison for murdering a six-year-old girl.

"He used to live in a hostel in Derry as he could not go home to Portlaoise (in the Republic).

"I did not like the look of him, I did not want to be in his company."

She added he was an "evil-looking man with drink in him".

Howard was never convicted of murdering a six-year-old girl, although he was convicted of the attempted rape of a girl of that age.

Arlene was last seen with Howard - who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was unaware of his conviction for killing a south London teenager several years earlier.

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

He remained the prime suspect in the Arkinson case until his death in prison last year, aged 71.

Despite her concerns, Mrs Timoney never told the RUC. It took her 19 years to tell detectives.

She said: "I did not want to get involved with it."

Arlene, who was friendly with her daughter, rushed into Mrs Timoney's house one night saying she was pregnant and crying at the mention of Howard.

She said: "She was crying, quite hysterical."

Mrs Timoney warned her own daughter Sharon not to associate with Howard, but she never went to police, even after Arlene disappeared.

It was only when detectives talked to her that she volunteered the information. "I just kept it to myself," she added.

The inquest in Belfast continues.

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