Northern Ireland

Arlene Arkinson inquest: Suspect Robert Howard joked about getting away with murder

Arlene Arkinson Image copyright Arkinson family
Image caption Arlene Arkinson disappeared in 1994 after a school disco in county Donegal

The man suspected of killing Arlene Arkinson had joked to workmates of getting away with murder, according to statements given to police.

The statements have been read out at the inquest into the County Tyrone schoolgirl's disappearance.

Arlene disappeared in August 1994 after a night out in Donegal.

Robert Howard was tried and acquitted of her murder in 2005, but had been convicted of murdering another teenager. He died in prison last year.

For some weeks in 1993 he had worked as a labourer in the Castlederg area for local man Mervyn Finlay, who has since died.

Mr Finlay's statement to police in 2002 explained how Robert Howard had once boasted at work that "if he killed someone he would not be caught because he knew how to get rid of the body".

Mr Finlay's statement said he and all his employees had laughed at the time, concluding that Howard was simply boasting.

But he thought of the matter again when Robert Howard was charged with Arlene's murder, and contacted police.

Chemicals

Later, a statement from another man was read to the court, a man who had also known and worked with Howard, as well as statements from his girlfriend.

They described how Howard had shown them chemicals from a disused chemist shop store, and had explained how they could dissolve bones, something he spoke of several times.

The court also heard statements from two former prisoners who shared a hospital wing with Robert Howard in Crumlin Road jail in 1993.

They said that Howard boasted that he had pretended to be claustrophobic to fool the prison authorities, and proffered advice on how to trick psychiatrists.

Image caption The teenager was last seen in a car driven by convicted killer Robert Howard

As the inquest continues, counsel for the Arkinson family has criticised some medical reports issued about one of the future witnesses, former police Ch Supt Eric Anderson, who had led the inquiry into Arlene's murder.

The Arkinsons' legal team is unhappy with the decision to hear Mr Anderson's evidence via video link, due to conditions explained in the medical reports.

The family's barrister also intends to play the court extracts from a UTV "Insight" programme where Mr Anderson was filmed appearing to offer documents from the case for sale for £700.

There was also considerable legal discussion in court around a Public Interest Immunity certificate already granted to the PSNI.

Untrue

This involves a call to the police in 1996 naming Kathleen Arkinson and her partner Stephen Walsh as Arlene's killers.

This information was later considered by the police to be untrue.

Although the person making the anonymous call was later met by detectives, a barrister for the PSNI told the court that the police do not know the identity of the person, and do not know their address.

He added that this information was not gathered, at the person's own request.

The barrister for the Arkinson family rejected this argument and said of the unnamed witness: "This person could have flown in from the moon."

The coroner Brian Sherrard said that the redaction on the documents covered by the Public Interest Immunity certificate was "modest", covering "individual phrases, individual names, individual words".

The inquest continues.

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