Long-running inquest finds Tyrone schoolgirl died in 1994 at the hands of convicted murderer Robert Howard
The sister of a Co Tyrone teenager murdered over 25 years ago has welcomed inquest findings that a convicted child killer was responsible.
Following a long-running inquest, coroner Brian Sherrard delivered his findings yesterday into the death of Arlene Arkinson (15) from Castlederg.
She was last seen in the company of Robert Howard, the main suspect in the case, following a night out on August 13, 1994.
Judge Sherrard told the court that Howard - who died in prison six years ago aged 71 - was responsible, and that he was confident Arlene’s body was still in Northern Ireland.
Speaking after the findings, Arlene’s sister Kathleen said there could now be no doubt Howard was to blame.
She also alleged that he had been working as a state agent and 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 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.”
She continued: "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."
Howard was previously charged with murdering the teenager but was acquitted in 2005.
At the time 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.
Judge Sherrard said he had reached his inquest findings yesterday after an “exhaustive interrogation” of the evidence.
“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.”
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.”
Setting out the evidence in detail he also dismissed several rumours that circulated around the time of Arlene’s disappearance, including that she left Castlederg voluntarily, that she was suicidal or had been pregnant.
Explaining why he believed Arlene’s body is still in Northern Ireland, he said that Howard had been familiar with the surroundings in Castlederg and that the Irish border had been actively patrolled by security forces at the time.
In addition, he said the time available to him before sunrise had been very limited.
Judge Sherrard went on to reflect 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.”
Also in the inquest findings, the coroner said that knowledge of Howard’s criminal past meant that police should have arrested him in the days following Arlene’s disappearance.
While acknowledging the hugely challenging circumstances of the investigation, Howard was not arrested until September 23, 1994 which raised concerns that early opportunities to gather evidence may have been lost.
Describing the home life of Arlene Arkinson, Judge Sherrard said the St Eugene’s High School student was known to social services.
Her mother died in 1990 and her father was in poor health, meaning her six older siblings took on the main responsibility of caring for her.
Despite these challenges, Judge Sherrard described the commitment of her family to her welfare as “truly remarkable”.
Setting out the numerous lines of enquiry by police, he dismissed rumours that Arlene could have left Castlederg voluntarily.
Her family had described her as a “homebird” and it was also noted that she did not have a passport, money or the knowledge needed to leave the country.
Suggestions that she may have been suicidal were also dismissed, with the schoolgirl described as a “resilient” teenager.
It was also considered unlikely that she had been pregnant, and rumours that she had been trying to travel to England to secure an abortion were unfounded.
The inquest findings were supposed to be delivered in March 2020, but were delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and other issues.