UK
04/10/2015 17:43 BST | Updated 04/10/2016 06:12 BST

Robert Howard, Child Killer Suspected In Arlene Arkinson Case, Dies In Prison

A child killer and rapist suspected over the unsolved disappearance of a Northern Ireland schoolgirl has died in prison, PA has reported.

Robert Howard was the last person seen with Arlene Arkinson, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, before she vanished aged 15.

Arkinson disappeared after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal in August 1994.

robert howard killer

Robert Howard

Despite 92 searches and a long-running missing persons investigation, Arlene's body has never been recovered.

Eleven years later, Howard was acquitted of her murder.

The trial jury was unaware of his history of sex attacks and his conviction for strangling south London teenager Hannah Williams in 2001.

The 71-year-old was in jail in County Durham, England, and was set to give evidence at the re-ordered inquest into Arkinson's death in Belfast this November.

arlene arkinson

Arlene was 15 when she vanished

The inquest has been beset with many delays, including officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland having to security-vet 70 case files ahead of the hearings.

It had been due to begin at the start of September, but has been postponed until November.

The process will take place will be eight years after the first preliminary hearing into her death was held.

In July, the coroner refused to give police any more time to security check murder investigation files for the inquest, but a lawyer for the police service claimed "the resources simply aren't there" to check them, despite two police officers working on the documents.

Arlene's sister Kathleen has vowed to never give up the fight to uncover what happened to her.

Howard is believed to have died from natural causes.

A spokesman for the Prison Service division of the UK's Ministry of Justice said: "HMP Frankland prisoner Robert Howard was pronounced dead in hospital at 1.55pm on Friday.

"As with all deaths in custody there will be an investigation by the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman."

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