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Turmoil of Arlene Arkinson's final years in wake of mother's death

By Allan Preston

Published 16/02/2016

Arlene Arkinson
Arlene Arkinson
Kathleen Arkinson at a memorial stone to her sister Arlene
RUC officers search the home of Arlene Arkinson following her disappearance in August, 1994
Predator: Robert Howard
Arlene Arkinson's sister Kathleen
Arlene's sister Kathleen is comforted by her brother Martin in 2011 as a new search for Arlene's body proved fruitless

Arlene Arkinson has been described as the "blue-eyed girl" of her family with a love of art.

At yesterday's inquest there was a further insight into her troubled final years.

As the youngest of seven siblings growing up in Castlederg, her life was turned upside down by the death of her mother in 1990 when she was 11-years-old.

She lived with her father William for a time, who had worked as a plasterer, but he struggled with alcohol and was unable to properly care for Arlene.

Arlene moved to Omagh to live with her sister Anita. While in Omagh she endured the trauma of sexual abuse by Anita's husband, Seamus McGale. McGale was convicted and sent to prison, but would be released 10 days before Arlene's disappearance.

At this time it was reported that Arlene started to demonstrate some difficult behaviour. She would stay with different siblings and go missing for a day or two.

When she went missing in the summer of 1994, she was living with her brother, Martin. He was apparently frustrated with her behaviour and was "agitating" with social services to have her put into care.

On the night of her disappearance she was invited to a disco by the two last people to see her alive with Robert Howard - Donna Quinn (18) and her boyfriend Sean Hegarty.

Donna's mother Patricia was in a relationship with Howard and he had offered to drive them. Howard had previous convictions for rape and sexual assault and that night he was on bail for a sexual assault on another teenager in Castlederg.

The inquest heard that while in Bundoran, Arlene had confided to Donna that she was pregnant and that the father was somebody close to the family. She also told her she was the victim of a sexual assault by Seamus McGale.

By 2.30am Howard had dropped Donna and Sean home. They said they invited Arlene and Howard in for a cup of tea but they declined. Although they later admitted they were drunk and gave inconsistent statements, they both agreed the last time they saw Arlene was in the front seat of Howard's car.

Howard claimed he dropped Arlene off soon after in Castlederg, but his partner Patricia claimed he didn't come home until 9am. He later claimed to have seen Arlene the following afternoon in a blue car.

Social services were contacted two days later, police two days after that. Another 10 days passed before a formal search began.

Arlene's body was never recovered and more than a month passed before it was recorded she was a victim of a serious crime. Robert Howard was arrested shortly after.

He was never convicted, and when questioned again in 2002 continued to deny any involvement.

He was acquitted of the murder in 2005. At the time he was serving a prison sentence in England for the rape and murder of teenager Hannah Williams. He died in October last year at the age of 71.

Belfast Telegraph

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