RUC 'may have bypassed procedures'
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 looking at the 1994 killing that until it was revealed in court, he did not know tapes were 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.
Seventy-six-year-old Ms Mallon was gunned down by loyalist paramilitaries at her sister-in-law's home at Cullenrammer Road, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, on May 8, 1994.
The Ulster Volunteer Force said its mid Ulster unit 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 during daylight hours and did not record at night or if there was poor visibility.
Soldier A said: "It needed to pan and tilt. If you put a thermal imagery in there needed to be ambient light. There was no light in the area. It could have recorded but you would just get a blank screen."
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.
Also giving evidence to the inquest was a former Army captain, who served with the Scottish Borderers and who was named in court as Soldier T.
He said the request to mount the security operation came from Special Branch officers based in Dungannon and that the police would have retained primacy.
The officer, who was not screened from view, said he carried out reconnaissance of the area from the land and air and decided it was not safe to have soldiers stake out the target.
"It was easier to conceal a camera than it was to conceal four men," he said.
Soldier T said those on the ground would have relayed findings to their superiors in Armagh through radio transmissions and written logs. These were translated from 'Army speak' into plain English and passed on to the Special Branch. Tape recordings from the camera were also edited and put on to a master tape that was handed over to the RUC.
The area around the Mallon house was declared out of bounds for police and army - apart from the units conducting the secret surveillance.
The former officer said the decision to install a daylight-only camera was due to the size of the location.
"Unless there was a lot of ambient light you could not really see a great deal," said Soldier T.
"You would have been able to see vehicle headlights at night. You would have been able to see a person walking across the field of view but you probably would not be able to identify if it was a man or a woman let alone say it was Joe Bloggs."
None of Ms Mallon's relatives were in court for the proceedings heard by High Court Judge Mr Justice Weir at the Laganside court complex in Belfast.
The inquest is scheduled to last for two weeks.