Inquest told of pensioner shooting
Security forces had intensified their activities in the area where Catholic pensioner Roseann Mallon was murdered almost 20 years ago, an inquest has heard.
An undercover army had set up a lookout post in a wood; groups of armed men in combat clothing were a frequent sight and a n attempt was made to recruit a farmer as a spy, it was claimed.
SDLP councillor Anthony McGonnell said: "That area seemed to be under almost a form of lockdown."
Ms Mallon, 76, from Dungannon was gunned down as she watched television in the living room of her sister-in-law's home at Cullenrammer Road, about five miles outside the Co Tyrone town on May 8 1994.
She was hit multiple times when two gunmen sprayed the house with bullets.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) said its mid-Ulster brigade was responsible and had been targeting relatives of Ms Mallon who were involved with the republican movement.
Loyalist killer Billy Wright was among those arrested in connection with the attack but no-one has ever been convicted.
Two months after the fatal shooting, British Army surveillance equipment, including a camera, was found in a field overlooking the Mallon household sparking claims of security force collusion.
Giving evidence at Belfast Coroner's Court, Mr McGonnell, a former teacher, said there had been a spike in the number of complaints about military activity in the weeks leading up to the killing, but afterwards the councillor received no complaints.
"Security activity seemed to have been particularly intense during the months preceding the killing of Roseann," he said.
"In the rural area it was virtually impossible to move in any direction without being stopped by a patrol. Usually, if it was the British Army you got away quick enough but, if it was the Ulster Defence Regiment you could have been kept half the day. That's just the way things were in our part of the world at that time."
Paramilitary killings were rife in Tyrone during the Troubles and the area made up part of the so-called "murder triangle" during the violent 1970s and '80s.
In the two weeks before Ms Mallon's death eight people were killed.
Mr McGonnell said locals were aware that a specialist army unit had set up a base in a wood overlooking Mullaghbane Road not far from the Mallon family home.
He also claimed that armed men in "Army-type" clothing were seen patrolling the area at night.
"Farmers usually are fairly alert as to what is going on in their fields and on their land. This wooded area was used as a lookout post for a considerable period of time. That was confirmed by adjoining landowners and by the person who actually owned the land," said Mr McGonnell.
The court was told that farmer Noel Donaghy had raised concerns about attempts to recruit him as an Army informer.
Mr McGonnell said: "Mr Donaghy did say that on one occasion an attempt was made to get him, for financial remuneration, to get him to keep an eye on neighbours and report back."
In the wake of Ms Mallon's death police had warned Protestants living in the area they could be in danger. And, p arish priest Fr James Crowley said he had visited Protestant families in a bid to reassure them of their safety.
Fr Crowley, who administered last rites to Ms Mallon at the scene, said: "(She was) a lovely person, very intelligent and not a bad word to say about anybody."
Earlier the court heard how the Czech-bought assault rifle used in the attack had jammed.
Captain JC Convery, an Army technical officer, who examined the weapon which was found hidden under a sheet of corrugated iron two months later, said the person using it may not have known how to clear it.
He said: "It looked as if the weapon had been fired but had a stoppage."
The inquest into Ms Mallon's death was among 29 controversial Troubles-related deaths which for years have been awaiting a full hearing.
It is being heard by High Court Judge Mr Justice Weir and is scheduled to last for two weeks.