AN inquest into the UVF murder of pensioner Roseann Mallon 20 years ago has heard that Army surveillance tapes which could have recorded the paramilitary killing were wiped.
Roseann Mallon, 76, was shot dead in a hail of automatic gunfire when a Mid-Ulster UVF gang opened fire on a house at Cullenrammer Road, Dungannon, County Tyrone, in May, 1994.
Months later, an Army surveillance camera was found close to the scene with the lens trained on a nearby house.
But a barrister representing her family told the inquest, being heard by High Court judge Mr Justice Weir: “These tapes were wiped. Almost entirely.”
According to the barrister, scraps of edited recordings were retained but the bulk of footage from the day of the shooting and the previous three weeks were destroyed.
Ms Mallon was a large number of times in the attack carried out by the Mid Ulster brigade of the UVF led by Billy Wright.
Controversy has shrouded her murder after it later emerged the Army was conducting a surveillance operation on a nearby house owned by her nephew.
Her inquest in Belfast also heard how the detective leading the hunt for the UVF killers was not told about the covert Army operation that had been filming the Mallon house since April 1, 1994.
Retired RUC detective chief inspector Ken McFarland said he only found out about the camera after being contacted by a solicitor two months after the attack.
Mr McFarland, who retired 11 years ago, said he had requested information from RUC Special Branch.
However, he was informed they had nothing that could assist his case.
He said: “Special Branch operated on a need to know basis.
“If they felt you did not need to know it, you didn’t know it.”
Claims of security force collusion were made after the unmanned camera was found concealed in a field overlooking the house and adjacent engineering workshop used by Ms Mallon’s nephews Martin and Christopher.
It transmitted footage to soldiers in a nearby wood.
A number of people, including loyalist paramilitary Billy Wright, were arrested and questioned in the wake of the shooting but no one has ever been charged with Roseann Mallon’s murder.
Mr McFarland said he had been frustrated by the lack of co-operation from Special Branch and had been keen to locate the camera.
“It was taken as read this was an undercover operation. From my point of view the important (thing) was to get my hands on the camera to see if it could assist me.”
He later added: “I felt frustrated. I would have liked all the evidence at the time.”
When asked by the Mallon family’s barrister if it was “indefensible” that the recordings were never handed over, Mr McFarland replied: “I would have thought the best course of action would have been to provide my team with the tapes.”
However, the retired officer said he did not believe his inquiry had been critically undermined.
The inquest is scheduled to last for two weeks and is expected to hear from two Special Branch officers whose identity has not been made public.
A number of soldiers also due to give evidence have been granted anonymity despite objections from the Mallon family.
The inquest also heard on Tuesday that two RUC detectives allegedly put pressure on a 10-year-old boy into changing a statement.
It heard that 24 hours after the murder, the policeman arrived at the home of Gareth Loughran to question him about claims he had seen guns and army packs stashed in an old mill near the murder scene.
“They just kept repeating the question,” he told the inquest.
“They went over and over it again until they made me doubt myself. They made me think I hadn’t seen anything.”
He later made a second statement in which he said he had lied about what he saw.
Mr Loughran said: “It seemed to me at the time they wanted me to say I hadn’t seen anything.”
The rifle used in the murder was part of a consignment smuggled in from Czechoslovakia in 1987 for loyalist paramilitaries.
Most of the weapons were seized when police stopped two Ford Granada cars on the Mahon Road in Portadown laden down with weapons destined for the UVF and UDA in Belfast.
However, a third consignment was secreted away and handed over to the Armagh-based Ulster Resistance group.
Barrister for the Mallon family, Barry Macdonald QC told Mr Justice Weir, “Quite a number of these rifles were intercepted on the way from Portadown to Belfast.”