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Opinion: Landmark ruling in Arlene Arkinson case

  Arlene Arkinson (15) disappeared in August 1994 following a night out.
Leading Article

Twenty-seven years after Arlene Arkinson vanished after a night out in Donegal, and following an inquest that has lasted 14 years, a coroner has issued a landmark ruling on the fate of the Tyrone schoolgirl.

Coroner Brian Sherrard found that on the balance of probabilities, convicted child-killer and violent sex offender Robert Howard was responsible for the 15-year-old's death.

Anyone who has closely followed the course of this disturbing case will know that Howard, a profoundly evil and predatory figure, was the prime suspect in the disappearance of Arlene.

He was the last person to be seen with the teenager in the early hours of August 14, 1994.

In 2005 he was found not guilty of murdering Arlene by a jury that was not told of his lengthy criminal history, including the fact that he was convicted in 2003 of raping and murdering Hannah Williams, a 14-year-old girl from London who had gone missing in 2001 and whose body was found a year later.

Howard died in England in 2015 aged 71 while serving a life sentence but remained the only suspect in the murder of Arlene, whose body has never been recovered, despite numerous searches.

The coroner also ruled that Arlene's death happened in Northern Ireland but the precise location is unknown.

Importantly for relatives, he also addressed a number of rumours from the time of the teenager's disappearance, dismissing suggestions she had left Castlederg voluntarily, that she had been suicidal or pregnant, or that any member of her family had been involved in her murder.

He paid tribute to Arlene's sister Kathleen for the remarkable way in which she has driven this case from the very start.

For Kathleen Arkinson, this is not the end of the matter. She is still searching for her sister's body but is also calling for a public inquiry into this case, alleging that Howard was working as an RUC agent.

Her solicitor, Des Doherty, questioned a move by the state during the inquest process to exempt some evidence through public interest immunity certificates.

While the findings were significant in a number of respects, it is clear that questions remain about Robert Howard, who was able to get away with murder in 1994 and went on to kill again.

After 27 years, the family of Arlene Arkinson deserve full disclosure of all information relating to this individual and his activities.


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