Belfast Telegraph

Child killer seeks to halt inquest

A convicted child killer has launched a legal bid to halt an inquest into the death of a schoolgirl he was cleared of murdering.

The body of Arlene Arkinson, 15, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone has never been found. She disappeared after attending a disco in Bundoran, Co Donegal, in 1994.

Robert Howard was found not guilty of her murder in 2005 but senior Northern Ireland coroner John Leckey said he would be calling him as a witness at the inquest and that special measures would have to be taken for securing him.

However at a preliminary hearing in Belfast on Monday it emerged that Howard has lodged an appeal, challenging a High Court decision to allow the inquest to proceed.

He is serving a life sentence in Frankland Prison, Durham, for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Hannah Williams whose body was found at a cement works in Northfleet, Kent, in March 2002.

Fiona Doherty, a lawyer for the coroner, said: "A date has not been set yet but the Court of Appeal is fairly busy this term, but efforts will be made to ascertain whether that appeal can be expedited."

Howard's legal team argued that the inquest, ordered in 2007 and due to get under way next September, would be used to attempt to undermine his acquittal.

Henry Toner QC, a barrister representing Arlene's family, said the grounds for Howard's appeal are fairly "thin", telling the hearing: "I do not see it succeeding. That is my professional opinion."

A Police Service of Northern Ireland barrister said fresh searches for Arlene's body are scheduled to begin in March, while police do not believe their live investigation would be prejudiced by preparations for holding an inquest.

Arlene went missing 17 years ago after a night out across the Irish border in the seaside town of Bundoran and police believe she was abducted and killed. The teenager was last seen in a car being driven by Howard.

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