Killer Robert Howard ‘weighed up’ options on prison regimes, Arlene inquest told

Arlene Arkinson
Arlene Arkinson

Child killer Robert Howard complained to police about the harsh conditions inside Belmarsh Prison, a coroner’s court has been told.

The paedophile also asked being detained at Carstairs psychiatric hospital in Scotland and sounded out senior police officers about a possible deal hours after being charged with killing Arlene Arkinson, an inquest has heard.

Detective Inspector Herbert Henderson, told Belfast Coroner’s Court: “I do recall him outlining how the conditions in Belmarsh were particularly unpleasant.

“He was locked up in his cell from 8pm to 8am in the morning. They had hard boiled eggs and two rounds of bread.

“And, they slopped out in the morning.”

Mr Henderson, a retired detective inspector, was re-called to give evidence after first appearing the witness box in March.

The court heard he accompanied Howard from HMP Belmarsh - where he was being held on suspicion of killing South London teenager Hannah Williams.

They flew to Northern Ireland where Howard was taken to a police station in Co Fermanagh and charged with Arlene’s murder during the early hours of May 24 2002.

The next morning, just minutes before a court hearing Howard asked to speak to Mr Henderson and claimed other officers had told him he could be held in Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim if he co-operated.

“Clearly, he was very agitated,” said Mr Henderson. “He was walking back and forth in the cell. He was trying to tease more information out of me.

“It was very clear that he was contemplating making things easier for himself. He’d had a taste of Maghaberry and I think he was weighing up his options.

“That would be my interpretation.”

Howard also told Mr Henderson he would have to “see the prison and the regime” before making a decision, it was claimed.

No offer was ever made by police and Howard’s defence solicitor never indicated he was willing to co-operate, the court was told.

The retired detective was also asked about another conversation with Howard in which he asked to be detained at the Carstairs facility in South Lanarkshire.

Frank O’Donoghue QC, representing the coroner, said: “It is a mental institution in Scotland. It is for persons who have severe mental disorders. People with diminished responsibility who are presenting a danger or extreme sex offenders.

“It was a very unusual request.”

Mr Henderson accepted it was “unusual” but said he had no recollection of the discussion.

He said there may be a record in his journal which he pledged to provide to the court.

Fifteen-year-old Arlene from Castlederg, Co Tyrone disappeared after a night out across the border in Co Donegal in August 1994.

She was last seen being driven off down a rural road with Howard - the partner of one of Arlene’s schoolfriend’s parents.

Her body has never been found.

Howard was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which, for legal reasons, was never told about his lengthy criminal history, including the murder of Hannah Williams in South London in 2002.

Meanwhile, it also emerged that the long-running inquest is approaching its conclusion.

The case, in its 13th week, is running well behind schedule but a barrister for the Arkinson family said it could conclude within three days.

Ivor McAteer said: “We are coming to the end phase of proceedings.

“Our best guess at this stage is that, with a following wind, we might finish in about three days.”

A number of police officers have still to give evidence to the inquest.

There may also be a potential witness from An Garda Siochana, according to the coroner Judge Brian Sherrard.

The hearing has been adjourned until Wednesday.