Absence of police witnesses rued
The inability of senior police officers to testify at an inquest into the murder of pensioner Roseann Mallon has been detrimental to the case, a barrister has claimed.
Two former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers who could have provided insight into the level of co-operation between the Army, Special Branch and murder investigators have been excused from giving evidence, Belfast Coroner's Court heard.
Detective Chief Superintendent Eric Anderson and his deputy, Detective Inspector Daniel O'Sullivan who led a specialist unit set up to look at claims of security force collusion in the 1994 loyalist killing, have submitted medical certificates stating they were unable to take part in proceedings because of ill-health.
Sean Doran, representing the Coroner's Service, said: "We are at something of a disadvantage that leading members of the team are not able to assist us."
The inquest, which is now in its third week at the Laganside court complex, was also told:
:: How murder squad detectives never viewed surveillance tapes from secret Army cameras overlooking the crime scene.
:: That detectives did not receive a list of cars in the area prior to the shooting until four months after it happened.
Ms Mallon, 76, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone was gunned down as she watched television on May 8, 1994. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) said it was responsible for the attack and claimed the gunmen had been targeting some of the pensioner's relatives who were involved with the republican movement.
Secret Army surveillance equipment including a camera was later discovered in a field overlooking the Mallon house and adjacent engineering works at Cullenrammer Road, Dungannon, sparking allegations of collusion.
The inquest is one of 29 Troubles related legacy cases and has been awaiting a full hearing for decades.
High Court Judge Mr Justice Weir, the coroner in the case, heard that a report was produced by Mr Anderson and his team almost a year after the killing.
It concluded that the covert operation code-named Paucity Two had been lawfully authorised and professionally managed. It also found that no evidence of collusion and that the camera equipment had been unable to record the murder scene at night.
Philip Moorehead, a former RUC detective constable who formed part of the Anderson inquiry unit said: "We took no part in the investigation of the murder of Ms Mallon."
He described visiting Army bases across Northern Ireland where he interviewed soldiers, recovered log books, operation room records and edited surveillance tapes but said their focus was on recovering the lost spy equipment.
Two detectives were tasked with trawling edited surveillance tapes and recording the registration plates of vehicles; where possible their owners were identified and a list was passed to detectives based at Dungannon on September 15, 1994 - four months after Ms Mallon's murder, Mr Moorehead revealed.
When asked by Mr Doran if all the viewing of the edited videos had been conducted by the Anderson inquiry team, Mr Moorehead replied: "Yes. That's correct."
The inquest had previously heard how some of the cars had been scrapped by the time they were traced by murder investigators.
Judge Weir said: "It seems to me that if you were investigating a murder you would like to have all the information that was potentially helpful to you at the earliest opportunity. Mr (Kenneth) McFarland expressed disappointment that this material did not arrive with him (until September)."
Meanwhile, the inquest also heard from Terry Walkingshaw who led the RUC search team that recovered the murder weapon.
The former inspector was unable to confirm if it was intelligence led but said the AK47-type rifle was found soon after the search was started. He said a senior commander had directed teams to a particular stretch of road that included a disused farmhouse.
Giving evidence over speakerphone from Afghanistan Mr Walkingshaw said: "Initially I thought he was joking with me when he said he had found the weapon until he actually showed me the weapon."
The gun, part of a Czech-bought consignment brought into Northern Ireland during the late 1980s, was found hidden under corrugated iron.
He added: "The perpetrators would have needed to have conducted a reconnaissance. It was actually quite a good place.
"But, after the murder they would have had to climb over the gate or opened it. It would have taken some time."