RUC Special Branch officers may have bypassed normal procedures to access Army surveillance tapes that could have recorded the day of Roseann Mallon's murder, an inquest has heard.
A military liaison officer – who would normally have facilitated requests for footage – told an inquest into the 1994 killing that until it was revealed in court, he did not know tapes had been removed from a secret Army post.
"I was not aware tapes were extracted," the former Parachute Regiment warrant officer known only as Soldier A said.
Ms Mallon (76) was gunned down by loyalist terrorists at her sister-in-law's home at Cullenrammer Road, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, on May 8, 1994.
The UVF said it was responsible and had been targeting the spinster's relatives, who were involved in the republican movement.
The long-delayed inquest is looking into allegations of collusion between the security forces and the UVF after military surveillance equipment was found in a field overlooking the Mallon house.
Last week it was revealed that surveillance tapes had been wiped.
Soldier A, who operated out of a base in Portadown, Co Armagh, said he would have been the link between Special Branch and soldiers on the ground.
"If Special Branch had a task it would come to me," he said.
But he only received a request for tapes from an RUC detective inspector investigating the removal of the military camera two months later, he claimed.
Barry Macdonald QC, barrister for the Mallon family, said: "If Special Branch want something from the military people who are involved in this operation, is it you they would contact as liaison officer?"
Giving evidence from behind a screen Soldier A replied: "Normally, yes.
"In this instance, no."
The court also heard that undercover soldiers monitoring the camera were hiding out in a post close to the Mallon house.
They reported hearing machine-gun fire on the night of the murder but were told not to react because there were no military casualties.
Soldier A said: "I was paged and I rang the COP (close observation platoon) immediately. They said they heard gunfire. I said, 'Are you involved, are there any injuries?' They said no and I said, 'OK, stay there and give an update in the morning'."
Three separate Army regiments – the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Royal Anglians and the Scots Guards – were involved in the security operation codenamed Op Paucity Two.
The secret camera, which was covered in camouflage and wrapped in Army-type cloth, was only capable of operating in daylight and did not record at night, or if there was poor visibility.
On the day of the murder, the camera was switched off at 9.28pm – almost two hours before the fatal shooting – and was not switched back on until 4.31pm the next day.
Ground logbooks written by soldiers stationed at the remote outpost suggest it was because of poor weather, but Soldier A acknowledged it may also have been because there was so much police and Army activity in the area after the fatal shooting.