Belfast Telegraph

Social worker told police of Arlene and killer's relationship

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Social services alerted police to a possible relationship between Arlene Arkinson and the man suspected of killing her, a Coroners Court was told yesterday.

Handwritten police notes read out during the fourth day of the long-awaited inquest at Belfast's Laganside Court revealed that a social worker had confirmed that Arlene and Robert Howard were known to each other a few days after she went missing in August 1994.

The information was recorded by Detective Constable Gareth Jenkins, tasked with investigating the teenager's disappearance. He said the Omagh-based social worker had confirmed a "relationship existed".

Mr Jenkins added: "What sort of relationship that was, without having anything written down... it would be unfair to comment further."

Arlene, a 15-year-old from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, vanished after a night out at a disco in Co Donegal in 1994. Her body has never been found.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Howard, who died in prison last year.

Despite being acquitted of the murder by a jury unaware of his long record of sex crimes - including the murder of a south London schoolgirl - Howard always remained the police's prime suspect.

The court also heard that social services found Arlene had a poor attendance at school, was a smoker and drinker who did not go anywhere without make-up or money, and who "looked about 19 years old".

There was also a brief mention of a "relationship" with a second older man.

At the time she was living with her brother Martin Arkinson in Castlederg, and had on occasion gone missing, staying with her alcoholic father or another relative, but always making contact within 48 hours.

After two days, family members told social services that Arlene was missing, but it took two more days before police were informed, the court heard.

The initial missing person investigation had two main lines of enquiry - that Arlene had travelled to Birmingham to obtain an abortion, or that Howard was involved.

Although he was aware Howard had been on bail for serious sexual offences, Mr Jenkins said he was unsure whether he was still signing bail when the schoolgirl vanished.

"It was not a criminal investigation at this stage where I had taken my initial answers," he added. "It was not solely focused on Robert Howard. It also focused on the possible travel to England."

The Coroners Court also heard from one of Howard's victims, who described how she was left feeling "sick and dirty" after being repeatedly raped while a rope was tightened around her neck by the killer.

"I was terrified," said the victim in a statement.

The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph


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