Killer Robert Howard takes secret to the grave
The death of convicted serial killer Robert Howard means that hopes of finding the body of one of his suspected victims, Castlederg teenager Arlene Arkinson, have been effectively extinguished. While he was still alive in prison there was always the possibility that he might ease the anguish of Arlene's family and give up his guilty secrets.
Now the family have been left in the same horrible limbo that the families of the Disappeared - the victims shot and secretly buried by the IRA during the worst days of the Troubles - endured for decades in some instances.
But eventually some of the Disappeared were found as information on their burial sites was relayed to the authorities. Who can now tell were Arlene's body lies, sinking further into its unknown grave and eroding from the consciousness of all but her grief-stricken relatives? The answer appears to be no one.
The Arkinson family have every reason to feel badly let down by the police and the justice system. Howard's record of assaults on women stretched back decades and it was well known that Arlene was last seen getting into his vehicle after she left a disco in Bundoran.
Yet police were unable to connect him with the crime. Indeed the family had to endure the shame of the authorities digging up the garden of the family home, creating the impression that they were somehow implicated in Arlene's disappearance.
How galling must that have been for those relatives who had actually gone to the police to raise the alarm about the missing girl and give information on where she was last seen and who with.
Incredibly, Howard was out on bail on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl when he was seen in the company of Arlene. The family have every right to feel that the justice system let them down. It is not being wise with hindsight to say that a man with his track record of serious sexual assaults on women should never have been granted bail while facing yet another similar charge.
Even when finally jailed for the murder of a 14-year-old English schoolgirl, Howard continued to taunt the Arkinson family with his attempts to stall the inquest into Arlene's death. There was the faint hope that it could have shed new light on her disappearance.
Sadly he will never give evidence and in a way continues to taunt the family from beyond the grave.