RUC man recalls questioning child killer Robert Howard

Arlene Arkinson
Arlene Arkinson

Child killer Robert Howard transformed from calm and courteous to nervous and defensive when his bogus alibi relating to Arlene Arkinson’s disappearance was first challenged by police, a detective has recalled.

Detective constable Gareth Jenkins was the first officer tasked to investigate what was then a missing person report in the days after the Castlederg teenager vanished in August 1994.

Giving evidence to Arlene’s inquest in Belfast (see more details on today’s inquest proceedings here), Mr Jenkins, then a young constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, said he went to the Castlederg house Howard was living in to question his insistence that he had not been with Arlene on the night she disappeared.

The officer knew Howard as, around that time, he was regularly signing bail at Castlederg RUC station in relation to an alleged sex attack on a teenager.

In the wake of Arlene’s disappearance, Mr Jenkins had spoken with Howard and he claimed he had not been near her house in Drumnabey Park on the Saturday night in question. He further claimed he saw the teenager being driven around Castlederg by an unknown man the following day.

However, other witnesses subsequently claimed they had seen Howard in Drumnabey Park on the Saturday night she went missing.

It ultimately transpired that Howard, along with his partner’s daughter and her boyfriend, had collected Arlene at her house and driven her across the Irish border for a night out in the seaside town of Bundoran. On the return journey Howard and Arlene were the last two left in the car. She was never seen again.

Mr Jenkins recounted to coroner Brian Sherrard the first time he challenged Howard about his account.

“I noticed a change in his demeanour from being quite open from the first few times I spoke to him,” he said.

“Coming up to the house at that time there was a complete change in attitude, he didn’t want to speak.

“I was more or less ushered out of the house. It was a difficult meeting.”

He said in his previous encounters with Howard, both in relation to Arlene’s disappearance and when he signed bail at the police station, he was plausible and courteous.

“That was the demeanour he portrayed throughout the initial meetings with him (about Arlene),” he said.

“This time it was different.

“This time I had it in my head that someone wasn’t telling the truth.

“He was denying his car had been in Drumnabey Park as others had claimed.

“He more or less ushered me out the door, he ushered me down the hallway towards the door.

“Whilst he repeatedly denied it (being at her house), his body language was different.

“Probably for the first time I saw him nervous and jittery. I know I wasn’t wanted, I knew he wanted me out of the house.”