Child killer gets legal aid for Arkinson inquest

Arlene Arkinson

Arlene Arkinson

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A convicted child killer and rapist has been granted legal aid for an inquest into the death of a schoolgirl he was cleared of murdering, the High Court heard yesterday.

Justice Minister David Ford has approved funding for Robert Howard to be represented at the hearing to examine the disappearance of Arlene Arkinson.

But with Howard expected to be called as a witness, he may yet further challenge the decision to authorise payment for just one counsel.

The 69-year-old launched judicial review proceedings in a bid to force the authorities into a determination on his legal aid application.

Mr Justice Horner was told yesterday that approval was reached on Christmas Eve.

Barrister Dessie Hutton, for Howard, said: “Effectively proceedings have served their purpose.”

Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, went missing in August 1994 after a night out at a disco in Bundoran, Co Donegal. Her body has never been found.

In 2005 Howard, who formerly lived near her home, was acquitted of her killing.

But the jury was unaware that by then he was already serving life for raping and killing another girl from south London.

Fourteen-year-old Hanna Williams’ body was found at a cement works in Northfleet, Kent, in March 2002.

A long-delayed inquest into the circumstances surrounding Arlene’s disappearance is due to begin in Omagh in April and last for up to nine weeks.

Howard has already failed in a previous High Court bid to block the inquest.

His legal team claimed the move was an attempt to undermine the not guilty verdict returned against him in 2005.

They argued that the inquest was being used as a way of reopening issues surrounding the case because the Arkinson family were unhappy with the outcome of the criminal trial.

Outside court Howard’s lawyer acknowledged he remains the prime suspect for the schoolgirl’s disappearance.

Fearghal Shiels said: “Mr Howard has been tried once for Arlene’s murder and could potentially face a further trial. The jury could possibly reach critical findings against him which could form the basis of a further prosecution so it is imperative therefore that Mr Howard is afforded an equal opportunity to examine witnesses and elicit other evidence.”