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Arlene Arkinson inquest finds main suspect Robert Howard responsible for her death

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Arlene Arkinson disappeared in August, 1994 (PA)

Arlene Arkinson disappeared in August, 1994 (PA)

Arlene Arkinson disappeared in August, 1994 (PA)

A convicted child killer was responsible for the death of missing Tyrone schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson, a coroner has found.

Brian Sherrard delivered his findings into the case of the 15-year-old from Castlederg, who was abducted and murdered over a quarter of a century ago.

The long-running inquest examined the death of Arlene, who went missing after a night out on August 13, 1994.

Giving his findings at Omagh Courthouse, Judge Sherrard said that Robert Howard, the main suspect in the case, who died six years ago, was responsible for her death.

He also said he was convinced that her body was still in Northern Ireland.

“On the totality of the evidence, this court finds that Arlene Bernadette Arkinson died on the morning of Sunday, August 14, 1994,” he said.

“There is no record of her being alive after that date. Robert Howard, a violent sexual offender and the last person to be seen with Arlene in the early hours of August 14, 1994, was responsible for her death.”

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He added: “The mechanism of her death is unknown, the court is confident of the date of death as Howard began establishing an alibi from the morning of August 14, 1994, at a time when Arlene’s disappearance had not become known.”

He said the court was confident that the death occurred in Northern Ireland, which is where Arlene was last seen and her final journey took place.

“The precise location remains unknown, but the court is confident that Arlene’s remains were secreted in this jurisdiction.”

The coroner dismissed several rumours from the time of Ms Arkinson's disappearance, including that she had left Castlederg voluntarily, that she had been suicidal or had been pregnant.

Reacting to the coroner's ruling, Ms Arkinson's sister Kathleen said there was now no doubt Robert Howard murdered her.

She has called for an investigation into Howard’s activities in Northern Ireland.

The coroner, explaining why he believes Arlene’s body is in Northern Ireland, found that Howard was familiar with the surroundings of Castlederg, and that the Irish border was actively patrolled by the security services at the time. In addition, the time available before sunrise was very limited.

After delivering his findings, Judge Sherrard reflected that Arlene would have now been a woman in her 40s.

“It is a matter of profound regret that Arlene did not get to live her life and to live to her full potential.”

He also said “a grave injustice” had been done to the Arkinson family due to the actions of Howard.

“I would like to reflect on the exhaustive manner in which (Arlene’s sister) Kathleen, in particular, has driven this case from the first days after the disappearance right through to today.

“That is remarkable, and Arlene no doubt has been served exceptionally well by her family in the intervening 27 years.”

Robert Howard died in prison in 2015, aged 71.

Howard was charged with murdering the teenager, but acquitted in 2005. The jury had not been told of his history of violent sexual offences and that he had already been convicted of the murder and rape of schoolgirl Hannah Williams in London.

Speaking afterwards, Kathleen Arkinson, who also alleged that that Howard had been working as a state agent, called for a public inquiry into his activities in Northern Ireland.

"This was a 14-year-old inquest, nearly as long as Arlene's life," she said.

"An inquest that Howard and the state never wanted. It was opened in November 2007 and only finishes today.

"Twenty-seven years on from Arlene's murder, I am still searching for her body. What else can I do? What else would anyone expect me to do? Despite what has happened, I have placed my faith in our justice system and went with it.

"Therefore I appeal to the Justice Minister (Naomi Long) to examine Arlene's case carefully.

"When she does, she will see that the need for a public inquiry into the activities of Robert Howard in this jurisdiction and his status as an agent for the RUC, which has led to death and misery for many people, will be unavoidable.

"I guarantee the minister that the more she looks into Arlene's case, the more outraged and terrified she will be on behalf of the public. But, above all, I want a Christian burial for my sister. In seeking the truth, through public inquiry, maybe I will achieve that."


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