Page last updated at 19:34 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 20:34 UK

Police 'failed' in Arlene inquiry

The 15-year-old went missing in Castlederg

Police failed to properly investigate the disappearance of Arlene Arkinson, the police ombudsman has found.

The 15-year-old went missing in Castlederg, County Tyrone, in 1994. Her body has never been found, but she is believed to have been murdered.

The ombudsman's office said police treated her disappearance as a missing person inquiry for too long rather than a potential abduction or murder.

It also said they took too long to arrest the main suspect, Robert Howard.

Although they had grounds to do this within 48 hours of her disappearance, it did not happen until 46 days after Arlene had first been reported missing.

As a result, police were not able to get the clothing Howard wore on the night of the disappearance and it allowed him the opportunity to dispose of evidence.

Arlene vanished near her home in Castlederg after attending a disco at Bundoran in County Donegal with friends in August 1994.

She was last seen in a car driven by Howard.

Howard was questioned and later charged with her murder, but he was found not guilty in court three years ago.

He is currently serving life for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old London girl.

The ombudsman investigated the case after a member of Arlene Arkinson's family complained that police had failed to properly investigate her disappearance.

The ombudsman found that police did conduct "quite a thorough initial investigation", focusing on Arlene's last known movements.

"The investigating officer correctly identified areas for searches, spoke to key witnesses and quickly identified inaccuracies in their accounts," it said.

However, it added the fact that Arlene had never been reported missing before and she was last seen in the company of a known sex offender should have alerted police sooner that it was a potential murder investigation.

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