Northern Ireland

Killer Robert Howard can challenge Arlene Arkinson inquest

Robert Howard
Image caption Robert Howard is a convicted child killer and rapist

A convicted child killer and rapist has won permission to challenge the holding of an inquest into the death of a schoolgirl he was cleared of murdering.

Robert Howard was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the coroner's decision to examine the disappearance of Arlene Arkinson in 1994.

His legal team claim the move involves an attempt to undermine the not guilty verdict returned against him.

The body of Arlene, who was 15, has never been found.

Howard's lawyers argue that the inquest is being used as a way of reopening issues surrounding the case because the Arkinson family were unhappy with the outcome of the criminal trial.

Arlene, from Castlederg, County Tyrone, vanished after attending a disco in Bundoran, County Donegal.

Howard, 67, who formerly lived near her home, was charged with her murder but acquitted at trial in 2005.

Life sentence

The jury did not know that by then he was already serving life for raping and killing 14-year-old Hanna Williams from Deptford, south London.

Her body was found in a cement works in Northfleet, Kent, in March 2002.

Howard's lawyers, who unsuccessfully tried to have reporting restrictions imposed on their judicial review application, pointed out that the coroner's stated purpose was to allow Arlene's death to be registered.

Image caption Arlene Arkinson went missing in 1994 and is believed to have been murdered

It was argued that this could be achieved through an alternative, High Court procedure with the Presumption of Death Act 2009 coming into effect.

No confirmation was given on whether or not Howard would co-operate with any inquest.

Counsel for the coroner contended that the test of necessity in holding an inquest had been met.

The court also heard that issues about the admissibility of bad character evidence would play a significant part in the case.

With the coroner said to be satisfied that Arlene is dead, it was set out that his obligation was to probe all the circumstances.

The judge hearing the case, Mr Justice Treacy ruled on Tuesday that it should proceed to a full hearing.

He said: "I'm going to grant leave (to apply for judicial review) and fix a date for hearing.

"I'm satisfied there is an arguable case."

A one-day hearing of the issues in the High Court has been listed for November.

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