Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen is admitting the police botched the investigation into missing sex workers, but he's also defending himself against accusations he failed to act on the issue.

Owen told the Missing Women Inquiry under way in Vancouver that the case was "horrible", and the police investigation was a "disaster" as well as a national embarrassment to Vancouver. The inquiry is looking at the police mishandling of the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton.

Owen, who was mayor and chair of the city's police board from 1993 until 2002, says indifference, incompetence, turf wars, and poor communication within the Vancouver police and the RCMP allowed Pickton to continue killing for years.

He says he initially accepted the police department's view there was no evidence of a serial killer, but says he grew sceptical over time, but he didn't have the power to tell the police what to do.

Owen said he initially opposed a $100,000 reward in the missing women case, but was testy and questioned the accuracy of a quote attributed to him on a news website, that said he referred to the reward as little more than a location service to find sex workers who had moved away.

"It was a telephone interview. I didn't know them. I've never heard of them. I've never met them. I've never heard of them since. But if it was in fact true and I did ever say such a thing, I regret it and I apologize. It became a major disaster this whole issue about these missing women."

Pickton was eventually arrested in 2002 and convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in 2007. Police found the remains or DNA of 33 women on his Coquitlam farm, but he once told an undercover police officer he killed 49.