Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Family queries witness screens

Security force witnesses set to give evidence have requested anonymity on the grounds of potential risks to their safety

A provisional judicial decision to shield seven security force witnesses from court when they give evidence at the inquest of a pensioner gunned down by loyalists has been questioned by the victim's family.

Relatives of 67-year-old Roseanne Mallon, who was murdered by the UVF in Dungannon in 1994, are unhappy they may not be able to see the police and army witnesses when they appear before the long-delayed probe next month.

Ms Mallon was shot multiple times through a window by the paramilitary gang as she watched television at her sister-in-law's home.

The UVF claimed it had set out to target relations of Ms Mallon who were involved in the republican movement.

The murder is the source of major controversy, with claims of security force collusion.

In the wake of the shooting, British Army surveillance equipment, including a hidden camera, was found in a field overlooking the house.

Ahead of the inquest, judge Mr Justice Weir received applications from 10 security force witnesses set to give evidence requesting anonymity and screening, on the grounds of potential risks to their safety

Having provisionally decided to grant anonymity to all of them and screening to seven, Justice Weir heard submissions from relevant legal representatives at a preliminary hearing in Belfast today ahead of making a final ruling.

Members of the Mallon family would not be able to see the witnesses given the screening protection.

Fiona Doherty, representing the Mallon family, insisted there was no need for the precaution.

She said the combination of anonymity and other measures available in court - such as the restrictions on note taking in the public gallery and the option of entering via private doorways - reduced the possibility of the witnesses being identified outside to minimal.

"The extent of the risk being articulated is at such a level as to be so remote that the risk is actually negligible," she said.

But Justice Weir said when dealing with Article Two right to life obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights he had to take a "precautionary approach".

He insisted that anonymity was not always sufficient, as someone with sinister intent could recognise a witness as someone they knew from the outside world.

"You don't have to have a name for someone to target them," he said.

The judge said he would give particular consideration to his provisional decision to shield one witness, granted not on Article Two security grounds but as a consequence of mental health issues.

Justice Weir said he would issue his final decision within days.

The inquest is set to get under way on November 4.