A retired police officer has rejected suggestions that the investigation into the disappearance of schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson was haphazard.
Neil Graham, a former detective inspector, was unable to provide an explanation for the delay in arresting child killer Robert Howard, who was the last person to see the teenager alive in August 1994.
But he told an inquest at Belfast’s Laganside court complex that all elements in the high profile case would have been carefully considered by a senior team.
He said: “I unfortunately am not in a position to give a reason why there was such a delay. I would love to give a reason.”
The officer was among the first CID detectives to hear that 15-year-old Arlene had gone missing after a night out across the border in Co Donegal.
A twin-track investigation was launched to determine whether she had run away, or whether something more sinister had happened, the court heard.
Mr Graham said: “There was very much a heightened investigation on the part of the police at that particular time.
“We had a number of outstanding issues in relation to what actually happened to Arlene. Had she gone away? There were some suggestions and stories that could not be tied up with all that was going on.
“In the absence of any clear evidence where Arlene was, the best activity that the police could do was to carry out a significant number of searches, all based on information received on the last known movements of people concerned.”
Information would have been passed up the chain to senior commanders, but the inquiry was made more difficult in the absence of forensic evidence or a body, it was claimed.
Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, vanished after a night out at a disco across the Irish border in Co Donegal on August 13, 1994.
She was last seen being driven away down a country road late at night with Howard.
Although he was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was unaware of his conviction for killing south London teenager Hannah Williams, he always remained the prime suspect until his death in prison last year, aged 71.