Police reject bullying claims
Police hunting the killers of spinster Roseann Mallon have rejected claims they bullied a 10-year-old boy into changing a statement.
Detective Constable David Stewart, a former RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) officer, told an inquest probing the pensioner's death in May 1994, that neither he nor his colleague would have put pressure on a child.
He said: "Neither the two of us would have been coercing a child into making a statement."
Ms Mallon, 76, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone was shot dead as she watched television at her sister-in-law's home on May 8, 1994.
The long-running case is shrouded in controversy over claims there was security force collusion in the killing.
Army surveillance equipment was found in a field overlooking the Mallon house at Cullenrammer Road about five miles outside Dungannon and tapes from the camera, which could have recorded the identity of the two gunmen, were later wiped.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claimed responsibility for the attack and said its mid-Ulster brigade had been targeting Ms Mallon's relatives who were involved with the republican movement. Notorious loyalist terror boss Billy Wright was among those arrested and questioned but, to date no one has ever been convicted.
In court, Mr Stewart was quizzed about statements taken from Gareth Loughran -- a 10-year-old boy who told police he had seen military packs and rifles stashed in a disused mill not far from the murder scene on the day of the fatal shooting.
Although he had little or no recollection of visiting the Loughran family home a day after the murder, the former detective refuted suggestions he had been tasked with getting the boy to change his account.
Mr Stewart said: "I assume the accusation is that we bullied him (Gareth Loughran) into making this statement. You do not do that to a nine or 10-year-old child."
In evidence given earlier this week Mr Loughran, now an adult, said he was interrogated by two detectives at his home in the absence of his parents and felt pressurised into making a second statement in which he admitted lying about seeing guns at the mill.
Mr Stewart said it was highly unlikely the boy was interviewed without one or both his parents being present because it was "bad police practise".
He also rejected as, grossly exaggerated, suggestions officers had spent over two hours quizzing the child.
"It would have been highly unlikely," he added. "He was only a nine or 10-year-old child, At that time a parent or an appropriate adult or guardian would always have been present throughout the process."
Detective Constable Ewan Ballantine who drafted and signed the statement in which Gareth Loughran admitted lying, also denied pressurising the boy.
"It was Gareth Loughran that amended his story, not any desire from the police," he said.
He later added: "We did not particularly want any answers. We just wanted the truth."
Barrister, Barry Macdonald QC, who is representing the next of kin, said the second statement had been written in police speak and was "manifestly incorrect".
"You were putting these words in the statement with a view to him adopting it in the circumstance that he was put under pressure," said Mr Macdonald.
"This was really the statement that you wanted him to make."
However, Mr Ballantine replied: "Absolutely not. If he had said there were 10 guns there we would have recorded that."
The officer also rejected claims they had contacted a senior investigator before returning to Dungannon police station to say "mission accomplished" because the boy had retracted his story about the rifles in the shed.
"No that's not correct," he told the court.
The case was among 29 controversial Troubles-related inquests that were awaiting a full hearing. It is being heard before High Court Judge, Mr Justice Weir at the Laganside court complex in Belfast.
Soldiers involved in the surveillance operation on the Mallon family home are expected to give evidence next week. Their identities have been protected despite objections from the next of kin legal team.
The hearing continues.