Arlene's family have been failed as evil triumphs
Sometimes there is no justice and evil triumphs. The death of sex beast child killer (I make no apology for the tabloid bluntness) Robert Howard in Frankland Prison in Co Durham is an instance of this. Convicted of murdering 14-year-old Hanna Williams from London in 2001, police here have no doubt that Howard also - despite being cleared by a Belfast jury - murdered Tyrone teenager Arlene Arkinson, last seen alive in a car driven by Howard in August 1994. Arlene's body has never been found.
Howard is also suspected in the disappearances in England of Elizabeth Chau and Lola Shenkoya, who vanished without trace in Ealing within eight months of each other.
A man of no conscience who, for years, steadfastly refused to help find the remains of Arkinson, Chau or Shenkoya, Howard psychologically tortured the Arkinsons and those other families. A deeply sick man, his little secrets gave him a feeling of being in control of events, even in prison.
So we should be glad that he is dead and, as Arlene's sister hopes, his soul is hurtling to hell. But we should bear in mind that news of his death is also a dreadful blow to the Arkinsons, making it unlikely that Arlene will ever be found.
What's most sickening is that the only ones who have suffered have been the Arkinsons and the other innocent families. True, Howard was caught (for another murder - an important qualification), sentenced and died in prison but, really, is that a fitting punishment?
Life in a cell - is that justice? At a most fundamental level, isn't it obscene in the truest sense that monsters like Howard are allowed to live while the rest of us must live in fear of what he and those like him are capable of?
And what are the bereaved left with? Photographs of a daughter, a sister, a niece - her young, smiling face forever frozen in time, forever associated with the darkest of evil, forever 15 years old. Left with the longing to see closure, to find and bury their loved one. In the Arkinsons' case, a basic human need now, barring a fluke, forever to be denied.
And how they suffered over the years. I recall standing in her sister Kathleen's house one morning, the carpets saturated with the muddy footprints of a police team who had dug up her own garden in a hunt for clues. Frankly, it seemed a baffling development.
There are many families wounded by Howard, and also by the justice system itself. For it was a soft justice system which allowed him out after serving just nine days in borstal for attempting to rape a six-year-old girl in 1964. A soft justice system that saw him serve less than three years of a six-year sentence after attempting to rape a young woman in the north of England in 1969.
Following his deportation back to his native Ireland, he was convicted of the rape of a 58-year-old woman. This time he was jailed for 10 years, but out in eight. He was also convicted of the 1993 grooming and protracted rape of a 16-year-old Castlederg girl. Her account of how he held her captive for three days, repeatedly raping her "in every way" as he tightened a rope around her neck is the stuff of nightmare. She escaped, while he was sleeping, by jumping from a second-floor window. It was while on bail awaiting trial in this case that he is believed to have murdered Arlene. For the record, he was given a three-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to unlawful carnal knowledge. He then slipped across the Irish Sea to murder Hanna Williams.
Howard never met justice. He was a dangerous menace to all women and children and was given chance after chance to continue his evil perversity, with the legal system helping him, enabling him, giving him the benefit of too many doubts.
When he was tried in 2005 for Arlene's murder, the jury never heard about the long chain of his sexual crimes. The legal system wrapped itself protectively around this man who left prison in England for a Belfast court. His very notoriety as a murderous psychopath drew that lucrative protection around him.
Armchair jurists may strike up about a defendant's right to a fair trial, but what about the Arkinsons' right to a fair trial? Instead, they had to stand and take it while evil looked them straight in the eye, sneered and left the courtroom acquitted to return to its cell in England.
Even the last chance of holding Howard to account was wasted by the legal system. After a coroner ordered an inquest into Arlene's case in 2007, Howard and his legal team fought and fought - with taxpayers' money - to keep this vile human being out of the witness box. No murderer is as protected and no case is as lucrative as that soaked in the glamour of sexual predation.
Thumbs up, m'learned friends. You were successful. The monster died before the inquest - eight years after it was first called. Eight long years. Howard passed away in the bosom of a legal and criminal system which didn't stop him. On the contrary, it freed him time and again to cruise the roads of Donegal and Tyrone that fateful night when he should have been in prison.
Now he'll be lowered into his grave while poor lost Arlene lies unclaimed where he sank her into the lonely boglands around Castlederg.
The only winner in this long scandal remains Robert Howard. The rest of us - at least, those he didn't kill - failed.