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Ex-police officer denies missing Arlene Arkinson probe was 'haphazard'

Published 16/03/2016

Convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died in prison last year aged 71, remains the prime suspect in the Arlene Arkinson case
Convicted child killer Robert Howard, who died in prison last year aged 71, remains the prime suspect in the Arlene Arkinson case

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.

Ivor McAteer, representing the Arkinson family, asked if it was a case where "the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing".

The former officer replied: "No, it was not, no."

He later added: "The concept of police pursuing a successful criminal investigation in the absence of evidence or a body had not been tested in any form.

"I have no doubt that the senior investigating officer would have been very mindful of all those facts, particularly in consultation with the Prosecution Service."

Meanwhile, the court also heard that a large number of searches in forests, bogland and country roads in the Castlederg area and across the border in Co Donegal during September and October 1994 had been fruitless.

Although searches were carried out at Robert Howard's flat on Main Street, the paedophile sold his car a day before being arrested on September 28 1994, it emerged.

Mr McAteer added: "We know he had a flat, we know he had a car, we know that Arlene was last seen in the car, we know that there were lies by witnesses who have seen her. We knew he had been crossing borders in breach of bail. At no time anybody thought 'we'll have him' prior to September 28. Is anything I saw inaccurate?"

The ex-policeman said: "No."

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.

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