Bullets riddle in shooting probe
A coroner is to examine bullets of differing calibres in a bid to establish whether a teenager killed in a gun attack blamed on paramilitaries was actually shot by a British soldier.
Marion Brown, 17, was gunned down in a Belfast street moments after kissing her boyfriend goodnight.
The killing in Roden Street in June 1972 was first blamed on republican and then loyalist gunmen.
An Army patrol was in the area at the time and soldiers claimed they had exchanged fire with a gunman in a car. But other witnesses have disputed this account.
An inquest held in the wake of the death of the Catholic teenager from the west of the city heard post mortem evidence that the bullet that killed her was likely fired from a Thompson sub-machine gun - a weapon often used by paramilitaries in the 1970s.
But Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin has ordered a new inquest into the death after the police's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) re-assessed the case.
As part of that probe, forensic re-examinations of information about the exit and entry wounds on the teenager's body suggested the bullet may actually have been much larger, opening the possibility it was fired from an Army issue high velocity SLR rifle.
A 7.62 SLR round is significantly bigger than the pistol-style .45 round used in a Thompson machine gun.
At a preliminary hearing in Belfast, Coroner Jim Kitson asked that both an SLR and .45 round are produced at the new inquest.
A lawyer for the victim's brother Richard Brown stressed the importance of the examination.
"This is a crucial issue in this case," said Padraig O Muirigh.
Mr Kitson had requested that the Ministry of Defence provide both rounds but MoD lawyer Ken Boyd warned that the Army may struggle to obtain a .45 round.
"That's not a round that the military would normally have used," he said.
"It's not a round that would be in the possession of the MoD at this time. They would have to go and source that round."
Mr Boyd suggested that Mr Kitson ask that Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) produce a .45 round as an exhibit.
Mr O Muirigh said the source of the sample rounds was not a significant issue.
"It's very important we have these exhibits wherever they come from," he said.
Mr Kitson urged Mr Boyd to establish definitively whether the MoD could provide a .45 round while he would also approach the FSNI about the issue.
The MoD is also currently sourcing the disciplinary records of the soldiers in the patrol to see if any issues around live firing had been flagged up during their military careers.
The coroner has also requested that police undertake checks to establish whether the clothes worn by Ms Brown when she was shot are still in existence.
Her brother has claimed he was told the clothes were destroyed by mortuary staff due to the volume of blood on them, but Mr Kitson said he wanted to officially confirm whether that was the case.
With disclosure and anonymity issues also not yet dealt with, the coroner said he was not in a position to set a firm date for the new inquest.
Lawyers will reconvene in mid-November for another preliminary hearing.