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Serial Killer May Have Been Special Branch Agent
Prime Suspect in disappearances of young women both sides of border scrutinised by Nuala O'Loan
The prime suspect in the disappearance of Castlederg teenager Arlene Arkinson, as well as a number of young women in the Republic, may have been working as a Special Branch agent throughout the time of those disappearances. Robert Howard, the man who gave Arlene Arkinson a lift home from Bundoran on the night she disappeared without trace was recently cleared of her murder at a trial in Belfast. It emerged after he was cleared that he had a previous conviction for the kidnap, rape and murder of another young girl in England during the 1970s. Legal experts have now said that this would have been admissable in the court but still the PSNI never made it part of their case. Nuala O'Loan is now investigating why the PSNI witheld this information. Local MP Pat Doherty , the Arkinson family and many local people in Castlederg are convinced that at the time of the murder Howard was a spy for RUC Special Branch in the Castlederg area.
It has also emerged that at the time of Arlene's disappearance Howard was out on bail (despite his long history of sexual assaults, kidnap and murder) for attacking and raping another Castlederg woman. Despite his depraved and murderous history (which was known to police) and the fact that he was the last person Arlene Arkinson was seen in the company of - Howard was only arrested and questioned about her disappearance after the Arkinson family went to the Sunday World.
Unbelievably, after the Arkinson family publicised the fact that Howard had left Bundoran heading for Castlederg with the girl, the RUC then descended on the Arkinson family home and dug up their garden in full view of television cameras which accompanied them. This gave the public at large the impression that Arlene's family were somehow implicated in her disappearance, or at least that senior detectives believed so.
It has also emerged that the Detective originally responsible for investigating Arlene's disappearance, Special Branch officer Eric Anderson, was the same man tasked with leading the RUC investigation into the Omagh bombing. After an investigation by Nuala O'Loan into his handling of that case it emerged that hundreds of pieces of evidence and eyewitness satements were tampered with or destroyed completely. Evidence that security forces both sides of the border had advance knowledge of the bombing and that Special Branch agents played a central role in it was witheld by detective Anderson, who has since retired.
Irish born Howard, who is now a prime suspect in the murder and disappearance of numerous young women in the 26 counties, also regularly crossed the border from the village of Castlederg (were he settled in the late 1980s). Local people in the Tyrone border village claim he appeared from nowhere and had no connections with the village at all. Despite being unemployed he seemed never to be short of money and was never stopped by police despite having no tax or insurance.
Following local suspicion over his involvement in Arlene Arkinson's murder Howard left Castlederg and moved south to live in the Republic. It was when he moved to the 26 counties that the disappearances of numerous young women began and carried on for years. These disappearances are widely believed to be the work of a serial killer and as yet no-one has been brought to justice for them.
Nuala O'Loan is now investigating the claims that Howard was a Special Branch agent. If he is guilty and if a blind eye was turned to his activities it will be yet another damning indictment of Britain's use of murderous agents in their dirty intelligence war. Whether Howard was an agent, of which many in Castlederg are now convinced, remains to be seen. And if he was it raises the further question as to whether the Gardai in Donegal knew about his role at the time as well. And the question mark that leaves over their investigation into the subsequent disappearances of young women in the 26 counties is a huge one.