Witness ‘knew in her heart’ that Tyrone schoolgirl was dead

Arlene Arkinson
Arlene Arkinson

A woman who lied to police about the disappearance of Arlene Arkinson has said she knew in her heart the schoolgirl was dead a week after she went missing, an inquest has heard.

Donna Quinn sobbed as she told a coroners court in Belfast that she thought Robert Howard had sexually abused and then murdered her friend, but she did not know where she was buried.

I believed that Saturday that Arlene was dead and that Bob Howard had murdered her

Donna Quinn

Ms Quinn said: “I thought in my heart and soul that she was dead.”

Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in 1994.

She was last seen with convicted child killer Howard, who died in prison last year aged 71.

He was acquitted of Arlene’s murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his conviction for killing a south London teenager several years earlier.

Ms Quinn was the daughter of Howard’s partner and was among the last people to see Arlene alive.

Even though she knew he was a dangerous and violent sexual predator who liked teenage girls, Ms Quinn had no concerns about leaving her friend alone in his car after their night out, it was claimed.

The penny only dropped that something “suspicious” had happened when Arlene failed to turn up and Howard asked her to lie, the court was told.

Ms Quinn said: “I believed that Saturday that Arlene was dead and that Bob Howard had murdered her.”

When asked why Howard had not wanted her to say Arlene had been with them on the night she vanished, Ms Quinn repeatedly claimed not to recall.

Ms Quinn, who was 18 at the time, described herself as a vulnerable young girl.

She said she detested Howard who had boiled her pet rabbit and smashed the skulls of kittens for fun before showing her the bodies.

“I hated the man,” she told the court.

She also conceded that Howard may have been using her to groom her friends.

“He probably was, aye,” Ms Quinn told the court.

Ivor McAteer, representing the Arkinson family, questioned her poor recollection of the events which had “shaped” her life.

He said: “Let’s just stop this. Let’s have some straight answers to straight questions. Every time you are asked something difficult your default answer is you ‘cannae mind’.”