Belfast Telegraph

Robert Howard tried to rape me during hide-and-seek, woman tells Arlene inquest

A woman has told a coroner's court she was lucky to escape when paedophile Robert Howard tried to rape her during a game of hide-and-seek.

In a graphic account, given to the inquest for murdered teenager Arlene Arkinson, the witness described having to fight off the convicted child killer, who had pinned her down in the bedroom of his flat.

The woman, who cannot be named, said she was terrified.

She said: "I thought we were playing an innocent game of hide and go seek.

"I know that Bob Howard was going to have sex with me against my will and I was so lucky to get away."

The alleged incident happened at Howard's home on Main Street in Castlederg, Co Tyrone - about a year before Arlene vanished in August 1994 - when the woman was aged 14.

Details were given in a statement made to police investigating Arlene's disappearance in July 2002.

The woman said she had known Howard but had never liked him, adding that she thought he was "creepy".

She had been at the flat on a number of occasions without any incident.

On this day, it was suggested that they play hide-and-seek and the lights were turned off, Belfast Coroner's Court was told.

When Howard found the teenager hiding in his bedroom, he said "you've been caught" before pushing her on to his bed, covering her mouth and pinning her down forcefully, she said.

"I was thinking that he was going to rape me," she said. "I knew I had to do something.

"I couldn't let him have intercourse with me. I struck him. I was aiming for his privates and I believe I did strike him there."

After fleeing, panic-stricken, the witness said she ran to find Donna Quinn who was also allegedly in the flat.

"I wanted to find Donna and tell her what happened," she said. "Donna was sitting on the chair. I saw a smirk on her face and she kept looking at me.

"I was going to tell her what had happened but I felt by that look on her face that this was planned.

"I ran down the hall and out of the flat."

The woman said she did not tell anyone and for years tried to block out the "nightmare".

She avoided Ms Quinn and never had any further contact with Howard.

She also warned Arlene to be wary of him, the court was told.

"I have kept this to myself," she said. "I have often thought why did I go into his bedroom? I have blamed myself for this all these years."

Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, disappeared in August 1994 after a night out at a disco across the border in Co Donegal.

She was last seen with Howard, who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his conviction for killing a schoolgirl in south London.

However the 71-year-old remained the prime suspect until his death in prison last year.

Despite extensive searches the teenager's body has still not been found.

The inquest, which is in its third week, continues.

Later, the court heard from a number of social workers who had engaged with Arlene and her extended family.

Michelle McKernon agreed with an assertion from their lawyer that the teenager had been "dealt a fairly raw hand in life".

The court heard how following the death of her mother in 1990, Arlene's father struggled to provide adequate care because of an alcohol addiction.

As a result, Arlene flitted between siblings living in Castlederg, Omagh and Strabane.

Despite some difficulties, the social worker said Arlene had always wanted to remain with relatives and was opposed to going into care.

She said: "Arlene wanted her family and wanted to be close to her family members."

When she went missing, Ms McKernon informed police, with the consent of the Arkinson family, the court was told.

However, there was some dispute about the exact date on which the telephone call was made.

According to social services records, police were told on August 16 1994 -- three days after she had failed to return home.

But, Kevin Rooney QC, representing the police, said: "The police say the first record is on (August) 18, (1994)."

Meanwhile, another social worker said Arlene would not have been capable of starting a new life on her own, and had not spoken of wanting to move away from the Castlederg area.

Mary Gormley said: " Arlene was a bit of a mixture in that she presented sometimes as being quite mature but, contrary to that she was a little girl.

"She may not have felt totally secure all the time but she looked for that security."

The hearing has been adjourned until Monday.


From Belfast Telegraph