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Robert Howard - Failures need to be addressed

Robert Lesarian Howard, from Wolfhill, Co Laois, was sentenced to life in prison in Britain in 2003 for murder of a 15-year-old English schoolgirl, Hannah Williams.

But Howard is suspected of leaving a trail of woe across these islands since he was first convicted of burglary as a 13 year old.

He was allowed to live somewhat of a charmed life because of the manner in which his background has essentially been kept secret.

At the age of 19 he was convicted in London of trying to have sex with a six-year-old girl after he entered her room pretending to be a doctor.

His punishment for this outrageous crime was a mere nine days in a Borstal institution.

Four years later he was jailed for six years for attempting to rape and strangle a woman in England after he broke into her home.

In 1973, after he got out of jail, he was convicted of robbing a 58-year-old woman in her Cork home and raping her twice during a five-hour ordeal.

After his release from Mountjoy Prison in 1981, he lived at different times in Monaghan, Letterkenny and Wexford, as well as the Clondalkin, Coolock and Ranelagh areas of Dublin.

British and Irish police suspect that Howard may be linked to the disappearance of up to six women, including two high-profile cases in this State.

But they have been unable to come up with evidence linking Howard with the case of Jo Jo Dullard, who vanished while hitching a lift to her Callan home, or Annie McCarrick, the 26-year-old New Yorker who went missing in 1993 while walking in Co Wicklow.

That same year Howard was accused of repeatedly raping a 16 year old. However, he claimed the girl consented and he was convicted of the lesser charge of unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under 17.

While on bail for those charges in August 1994, he was seen with 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson of Castlederg, Co Tyrone, at a disco in Co Donegal.

She disappeared that night and is presumed to have been murdered.

When Howard was charged with the murder of the 15-year-old London schoolgirl Hannah Williams, the English court trying the case was allowed to hear evidence of the manner in which he groomed the two teenage girls - Arlene Arkinson and Hannah Williams - through older women, after attaching himself to their families.

He was convicted of the Williams murder and was sentenced to life in prison, but he was acquitted in June of this year of the Arkinson murder. The Arkinson family are understandably perturbed that the jury could not be told of his previous convictions.

No one has the right to assume that Howard was responsible for any of the disappearances in this State, but given his record it could only be considered a matter of luck if he did not strike here. He was not on the sexual offenders list because his convictions for rape occurred before the list was drawn up. This was perverse absurdity, which rendered the list little more than a snare, lulling people into a false sense of security.

A system that exposes the innocent to danger in order to protect the guilty is, in itself, a perversion.