Child killer Robert Howard exploited border to evade justice: former top officer

Robert Howard was acquitted in 2005 of Arlene Arkinson's murder but was due to give evidence at her inquest
Robert Howard was acquitted in 2005 of Arlene Arkinson's murder but was due to give evidence at her inquest

An evil child killer was able to exploit cross-border extradition difficulties to evade justice, a former top PSNI officer has claimed.

Robert Howard, who died in an English prison on Friday, was acquitted in 2005 of murdering 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson from Castlederg.

The teenager was last seen in Howard’s car after going to a Co Donegal disco in 1994.

Former assistant chief constable Alan McQuillan was involved in a re-examination of the murder investigation and said he regarded Howard as being particularly evil.

Mr McQuillan said Howard preyed on the vulnerable.

“He was a devious, manipulative, lying and cunning predatory paedophile. He would fasten on to woman with a young daughter.

“People who were vulnerable, the daughter was vulnerable, the child maybe had a troubled history because of the family background.”

“If he saw a weakness there he would ingratiate himself with the mother, he would sidle up alongside them then he would kidnap and kill the daughter. He was completely predatory – a horrible person,” he said.

Mr McQuillan said he was in no doubt that Howard had killed Arlene Arkinson but was notoriously difficult to bring in for questioning.

“This guy exploited the Troubles and exploited the border. He would pick up somebody in one jurisdiction, take them to another, commit offences in the other and then come back.

“When he knew he was wanted for something he would flee to the other jurisdiction. Unless you had enough evidence to arrest him and charge him, you couldn’t get extradition.”

Mr McQuillan added: “He exploited the border, he flipped back and forward between Northern Ireland, the Republic and England, and he did that consciously as part of his attempt to frustrate investigations.”

Howard, 71, was serving a life sentence in Co Durham for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Hannah Williams when he died.

When he was acquitted of murdering Arlene Arkinson the trial jury was unaware of his previous sexual offending – or his conviction for strangling the south London teenager in 2001.

Mr McQuillan said it was a tragedy that ‘similar facts evidence’ was not put before the jury in Northern Ireland.

“He had murdered Arlene Arkinson, he then murdered a young girl in England. In the trial for the English case, the Metropolitan Police were able to bring forward what is called ‘similar facts evidence’ in relation to another incident in Ireland where he had kidnapped and sexually assaulted a young woman and hung her up with a noose around her neck, and that was a critical issue because the body that was found in England had a noose around its neck.

“The Met were then able to persuade the prosecutors in the court to introduce that evidence to put it in front of the jury,” he said.

“When it came to the Arlene Arkinson case, there was a legal argument around that and it went, I believe, to the High Court. The High Court decided that that evidence could not be introduced in the Arkinson trial because the Arkinson case had pre-dated the other case and you can only take similar facts evidence from the past, before the crime, not similar facts evidence after the crime.”

The former ACC said: “If that had been put in front of the court, it would have been very clear to the jurors that not only had this man been charged on these facts, that this man had previously been convicted of the murder of a young woman in England, and that he had been previously investigated for the imprisonment, torture and rape of another young woman in Ireland. But legally it couldn’t be presented.”

He also said: “They (Arlene’s family) were being tortured by him alleging she was still alive and that he had nothing to do with it, when the reality is that he did. We wanted to bring closure to the Arkinson family.”