Northern Ireland

Arlene Arkinson inquest: Woman describes attack by Robert Howard

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

The inquest into the death of County Tyrone schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson has heard a chilling account of an assault by child killer Robert Howard.

The woman, who was just 14 at the time, told detectives how she believed Howard was trying to rape her in his flat in Castlederg, in the early 1990s.

Arlene, 15, went missing some time later, in August 1994.

Her body has never been found, and Howard, who died in prison last year, was the main suspect.

It has emerged that some time after the alleged assault, the woman had warned Arlene Arkinson not to have anything to do with Robert Howard.

The woman cannot be named for legal reasons.

She explained how she had known Howard a little, and how she had always been uncomfortable about the way he looked at her.

She told detectives: "He would glare at me. He made me feel very uncomfortable"

She later explained how visits to Howard's flat were mostly fine, and uneventful.

But one visit became a "nightmare" when Howard came into a room and assaulted her.

She told the court: "I thought we were playing an innocent game of hide and go seek."

But she said the assault began instead.

"I knew that Bob Howard was gong to have sex with me against my will and I was so lucky to get away," she said.

'I knew I had to do something'

She said she shouted for Donna Quinn, the teenage daughter of Howard's girlfriend, who she said was also in the flat at the time.

She said when she was struggling to get away from Howard: "I was thinking that he was going to rape me, and I knew I had to do something."

Eventually, the court heard, she was able to strike Howard with her knee and get away.

When she ran to find her friend Donna Quinn in another room she said she was surprised to see her sitting in a chair there.

She also explained how she immediately left the flat and never had anything to do with either Robert Howard or Donna Quinn again.

'Living nightmare'

The woman explained how for years she had not told anyone what had happened, until she spoke to detectives about it in 2002.

Image caption The inquest was told of an assault by convicted child killer Robert Howard

She told a barrister: "That was a living nightmare. When it came into my head, I had to shut it out."

Howard was later convicted of the assault of a different teenager and the murder of teenager Hannah Williams in London.

'Dealt raw hand by life'

Arlene, who was from Castlederg, vanished after a night at a disco in County Donegal in 1994.

Later, a social worker told the inquest that Arlene had been "dealt a pretty raw hand by life".

She was referring to the teenager's difficulties after the death of her mother in 1990.

Michelle McKernan told police that Arlene was missing in August 1994. She did so with the agreement of Arlene's family.

This happened a few days after Arlene was last seen - her brothers and sisters had thought she was staying with another family member.

Ms McKernan described Arlene as a softly-spoken young person, with beautiful long hair, and who was always wearing makeup when she met her.

She was questioned at length by a barrister for the PSNI about the date she reported Arlene missing to the police - her case records of making the call and the police records of receiving it differ by two days.

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