Top Kent detective criticises PSNI over Arkinson probe

Retired Detective Superintendent Colin Murray, who led the Hannah Williams murder investigation that led to Robert Howard's conviction, outside Belfast court with Arlene Arkinson's sister Kathleen. Picture by Hugh Russell

AN English detective who helped jail the man accused of murdering Arlene Arkinson has expressed dismay at how police in Northern Ireland investigated the schoolgirl's disappearance.

Colin Murray, a former chief superintendent with Kent Police, said he considered complaining to the Police Ombudsman after officers refused to act on information that could have undermined the prosecution of Robert Howard.

Mr Murray led the Hannah Williams murder hunt for which Howard was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2003.

He told Belfast Coroners' Court that shortly before the trial was due to begin, he flew to Northern Ireland to follow up on information that Arlene's body may have been buried in her sister's home.

Although he did not believe the tip off, thought to have come from a registered PSNI informant, it could not be ignored.

Mr Murray said: "On the one hand we are alleging that Robert Howard was responsible (for Arlene's murder) and on the other hand (there is) information that Arlene is concealed in a house owned by Kathleen (Arkinson).

"We could not go ahead and prosecute Robert Howard ignoring that information.

"If there was the remotest chance that information was correct that had to be bottomed out; proved or disproved."

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

She was last seen with Robert Howard, who died in prison last year.

He was acquitted of the teenager's murder by a jury that was unaware of his previous conviction for murdering 14-year-old Hannah Williams, whose body was found in an industrial area close to the Thames Estuary.

Howard always remained the PSNI's prime suspect in the Arkinson case.

Day five of the long-awaited inquest also heard how relations between the PSNI and Arkinson family were "hostile" and that officers did not believe they could secure consent to carry out a technical search.

Mr Murray, however, who got on well with the family, was able to obtain consent after visiting the Arkinson home with a military expert.

"I was dismayed about that particular issue. They (PSNI) were not with us at all.

"He (military expert) came in and very quickly checked technically that there were no voids which satisfied us that there was no possibility of the body being buried."

Meanwhile the inquest also heard from Patrick John Heggarty, who had been with out with Arlene Arkinson on the night she disappeared.

He said: "Arlene seemed normal. She seemed in good enough form."

Mr Heggarty, then aged about 25, was dating the 18-year-old daughter of Robert Howard's girlfriend.

Howard, Mr Heggarty, his girlfriend Donna Quinn and Arlene Arkinson all travelled to and from Bundoran together and on the return journey an intoxicated Mr Heggarty and Ms Quinn were dropped off first.

Although he had heard rumours about Howard's background and allegations of sex offences, he said he had no concerns about Arlene's safety when she was driven off with him, alone late at night.

In the days after Arlene disappeared, at the request of his then girlfriend, Mr Heggarty lied about being in her company but later told police the truth.

The case has left him troubled, the court heard.

"To be honest I don't know what to think any more or how to make head nor tail of it," he said.

Meanwhile, it emerged that the ongoing dispute over the disclosure of sensitive police files has still not been resolved.

Coroner Brian Sherrard described it as a "work in progress".

The case has been adjourned.

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