The chief suspect in the killing of Co Tyrone teenager Arlene Arkinson confessed to murdering a six-year-old girl, a witness told an inquest.
Robert Howard claimed he served six years in prison for the murder, according to a neighbour. He alleged he was living in a caravan in Castlederg in the early 1990s because he could not go home to the Irish Republic. There is no record of that conviction, a lawyer for the coroner said.
Arlene, 15, left her Castlederg home for a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in August 1994, her sister Kathleen Arkinson said. She had one Irish pound in her pocket. The schoolgirl was never seen again.
School children allegedly saw Arlene getting into Howard’s car, Kathleen Arkinson said.
Neighbour Bernadette Timoney said she was frightened of Howard.
“Once Howard mentioned he had been in prison for murdering a six-year-old girl. He used to live in a hostel in Derry as he could not go home to Portlaoise (in the Republic).
“I did not like the look of him, I did not want to be in his company.”
She added he was an “evil looking man with drink in him”.
Howard was never convicted of murdering a six-year-old girl, although he was convicted of the attempted rape of a girl of that age.
Arlene was last seen with Howard – who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was unaware of his conviction for killing a south London teenager several years earlier.
He remained the prime suspect in the Arkinson case until his death in prison last year, aged 71.
Despite her concerns, Mrs Timoney never told the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). It took her 19 years to tell detectives.
She said: “I did not want to get involved with it.”
Arlene, who was friendly with her daughter, rushed into Mrs Timoney’s house one night saying she was pregnant and crying at the mention of Howard. .
She said: “She was crying, quite hysterical.”
But she never went to police, even after Arlene disappeared.
It was only when detectives talked to her that she volunteered the information.
“I just kept it to myself,” she added.
She also told the coroner’s court that two months before she went missing, Arlene had told her she wanted £200 to go to England for an abortion.
She said Arlene became hysterical when she asked her if she had gone to get the money from a bank machine with Howard, or if Howard had done anything to her.
The inquest in Belfast continues.