Rapist’s death ends hopes of justice

The death of a paedophile and serial rapist in a British jail has ended hopes that he could be brought to justice for the murder of a 15-year-old Tyrone girl more than 20 years ago.

Robert Howard, aged 71, who died last weekend, was serving life in England for the 2001 rape and murder of a 14-year-old-girl in London.

He was the sole suspect for the disappearance and murder of Arlene Akinson on August 14, 1994.

He was tried for her murder some nine years later, but the jury returned a majority verdict of not guilty.

Howard admitted to giving a lift to Arlene and her friends Donna Quinn and Seán Hegarty, from their home town in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, across the border to Bundoran to go to a nightclub — and to bringing them home afterwards.

Howard, from Wolfhill in Co Laois, was 50 and was going out with Donna’s mother at the time.

Unknown to the children, he was on bail for charges of an horrific sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl.

Before then, he had served a number of sentences for sexual offences on women and children in England and rape in Ireland. He served a 10-year-sentence here for the rape of a 58-year-old woman in Youghal, Co Cork, in May 1973.

During that trial, a medical examiner described him as “a dangerous and explosive psychopath”.

According to the author of Missing and Unsolved, Barry Cummins, Howard constantly moved through Ireland and across the border into the North and across the water to Scotland and England to avoid police attention. He also used aliases to hide his identity.

“Police forces were aware of him, about his offending,” Mr Cummins told Morning Ireland.

“They would make him aware they knew of him, and then he would move on. They were constantly chasing him around the islands.”

On the night of Arlene’s disappearance, the three youths consumed an amount of alcohol, while Howard had one pint.

Arlene’s two friends were dropped off back home. Howard told police that he dropped Arlene off in the centre of Castlederg. She was never seen again.

Mr Cummins said that there have been numerous searches for Arlene in west Tyrone and Donegal, but to no avail.


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