Child killer Howard was like the 'Pied Piper' inquest hears

Robert Howard was likened to the Pied Piper in court
Robert Howard was likened to the Pied Piper in court

Sick child killer and rapist Robert Howard has been likened to the Pied Piper during an inquest for a murdered Northern Ireland schoolgirl.

Heather Moore, a former district nurse, described how children used to flock to his flat in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, at weekends.

She told Belfast coroner's court: "There were so many of them.

"He was like the Pied Piper on a Saturday.

"It must have been the place to go to on a Saturday for the young ones."

The inquest is probing the disappearance of 15-year-old Arlene Arkinson from Castlederg who vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal on August 13 1994.

Howard was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his conviction for killing a south London teenager several years earlier.

But the 71-year-old remained the prime suspect in the Arkinson case until his death in prison last year.

Ms Moore worked in Castlederg for more than 25 years and lived next door to Howard at Main Street in the town.

She said she was not aware of his violent history and found him polite in any brief dealings.

The court heard that Howard would have bought sweets from a nearby shop and let youngsters ride his motorbike or, in later years, taken them in his blue Metro car.

"He bought sweets and he obviously was giving them to the children and he would have let them ride on his motorbike on behind him. He was good to them in many ways," added Ms Moore, who has since retired.

It was also claimed that Patricia Quinn, who has previously denied being a girlfriend of Howard, was a frequent visitor to his flat - on an almost daily basis, according to Ms Moore.

"I never saw many adults around, only Pat," said Ms Moore, adding that she did see Arlene Arkinson going into the property but never on her own.

It was obvious Howard and Ms Quinn were boyfriend and girlfriend, the court was told.

Ms Moore said: "It was obvious really.

"She would have been there early in the morning, knocking to get in.

"He might not have answered the door for a while and she would have knocked louder and louder.

"You do not visit people at that time in the morning - it was around 9am.

"I would have thought the youngsters would have been put to school and she would have come down to Howard."

On one occasion it was claimed a blazing row erupted when Ms Quinn found her daughter Donna skipping school at Howard's flat.

Ms Moore said she saw the schoolgirl being frogmarched out by her mother who was shouting and cursing.

"It was a big row," she added.

Meanwhile, in a statement, Ms Moore also claimed to have seen Donna Quinn at Howard's flat on August 14 1994 - a day after Arlene went missing.

When asked about the reliability of her recollection, Ms Moore said: "I would have to say there could be some doubt because all the young ones look similar but I thought it was Donna."

In her evidence, Ms Quinn claimed she was visiting a sick relative of her then boyfriend at Altnagelvin hospital on that day.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, representing the Coroners Service said: "Donna, in her evidence, said that she was visiting a sick relative of her boyfriend in Altnagelvin that afternoon and was not in the vicinity of the flat that afternoon."

The hearing continues.