Belfast Telegraph

Child killer Robert Howard had 'bone-melting' chemicals

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

The man suspected of killing Arlene Arkinson boasted he could get away with murder as he had chemicals that could destroy bodies, a hearing was told yesterday.

Robert Howard joked to workmates on a building site a year before the teenager vanished that he knew how to dispose of a body.

Contractor Mervyn Finlay, who employed the paedophile for about six weeks in 1993, said in a statement read to the court: "He said if he killed somebody he would not be caught because he knew how to get rid of a body."

Mr Finlay told police about the content of the conversation in 2002 after hearing Howard had been charged with murder and that Arlene's body had not been found. At the time, it appeared Howard was "boasting", he added.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, disappeared in August 1994 after going to a disco in the Irish Republic.

The schoolgirl was last seen with Howard, who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury unaware of his earlier conviction for killing a schoolgirl in south London. He remained the prime suspect until his death in jail aged 71 last year.

Mr Finlay's statement was among a number read out and admitted as evidence to the inquest, which is now in its third week.

Other witnesses told how he had substances capable of burning skin and dissolving bones.

John Galbraith, who also worked on building sites, said he had seen old medicine bottles and jars filled with liquid laying about a shed at the rear of Howard's flat on Main Street in Castlederg.

Howard told him he had "plenty of chemicals that would melt bones or steel".

On one occasion, Mr Galbraith's girlfriend accidentally knocked over a medicine bottle filled with a hazardous liquid that fizzed and melted the metal it spilled on.

Among the other statements admitted in evidence were one from a former prisoner who was in the hospital wing of Belfast's Crumlin Road jail at the same time as Howard in 1993.

John Taggart said the child killer had described how he was able to manipulate the prison authorities by feigning claustrophobia to avoid being locked up in a small cell.

He also appeared to be "fixated" on a teenage girl he had befriended, and after one visit, Howard came back in a "fit of rage", vowing to commit murder.

"He said, 'I am going to commit murder and I will be back here (jail) in six months'," Mr Taggart told the inquest.

His testimony came as it emerged that a former senior detective who led the investigation into Arlene's disappearance would be allowed to give his evidence via Skype.

Retired chief superintendent Eric Anderson has previously cited ill health for non-appearance at other high-profile inquests, but a change in the relevant legislation last month means he could be compelled to appear.

Despite objections from a lawyer for the Arkinson family, the coroner said he was content that a "degree of special" measure should be afforded to the former RUC officer in light of medical evidence. The case continues today.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph