Missing schoolgirl Arlene Arkinson was a forgotten victim who was failed by the State, a senior police officer has told her inquest.
Retired chief superintendent Norman Baxter launched a stinging attack on police hierarchy and said the prime suspect could have been charged years earlier.
He said: “She was a forgotten victim and that’s quite a terrible thing.”
Mr Baxter, was brought into the Arkinson inquiry in March 2002 and within a few months had made the decision to charge Robert Howard.
He said the Arkinson family were not seen as a priority for police. “I think the Arkinson family were seen as people who had no standing and therefore society did not bother with them and therefore she was not of importance and not a priority.
“I think it is a terrible case that a 15-year-old just vanishes and after a period of statutory obligation you park it and move on.
“And that’s effectively what happened - it was parked and they moved on,” added Mr Baxter.
Fifteen-year-old Arlene, from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, disappeared in August 1994 after a night out at a disco across the border in Co Donegal.
She was last seen with paedophile Robert Howard, who was acquitted of her murder in 2005 by a jury which was not told of his previous conviction for murdering teenager Hanna Williams in South London several years earlier.
The court heard that the high profile case was in a “vague” status - neither active nor closed when Mr Baxter took over.
Although he found no new evidence, he was confident Howard could be charged. Mr Baxter said: “Robert Howard could have been charged years earlier. If there was a recognition that this was a family and this was a victim.
“If proper steps had been taken in 1994 then Hanna Williams would be alive, potentially.”