The Army's failure to trace a former soldier who attended the scene of a sectarian murder "beggars belief", a coroner has said.
Mr Justice Adrian Colton told the court he could not understand why the Ministry of Defence had been unable to find the ex-serviceman who had responded to the shooting of Daniel Carson in 1973.
The 29-year-old Catholic salesman from Dunmurry was gunned down by the UVF as he left work at a hardware merchants in the Shankill area of Belfast.
No one has ever been convicted of the murder.
A fresh inquest into the shooting has been ordered by Northern Ireland's Attorney General.
At a preliminary hearing in the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast yesterday, Judge Colton, who is presiding over the inquest, was updated on efforts to find witnesses to give evidence at next February's full hearing. Counsel for the coroner, Sean Doran QC, told the court three soldiers were involved in the case - two, referred to in court as M1 and M2, who attended the house of a suspect, and one, referred to only as M3, who attended the murder scene after the shooting.
Mr Doran said M1 had been traced and was willing to give evidence.
However, M2 was dead, and efforts to trace M3 had failed.
Mr Colton challenged MoD barrister Peter Coll QC why officials had been unable to find M3.
"It beggars belief to me that it's not possible to trace these people," he said.
"I just cannot understand it."
Mr Coll said the MoD did have an address on record for the former solider but he had not been found at that property.
"This is a man who has been out of the Army for a long time and they don't have up-to-date information," he said.
Coroner's Service investigators are to continue the search for M3 ahead of the inquest.
The coroner also heard that M1 was willing to give evidence without being screened from the court and with his name made public.
Noting other cases where applications for anonymity from former security force members are commonplace, the coroner praised the witness's stance.
"Let's hope this will set a breakthrough precedent and we will have soldiers coming forward without making anonymity and screening applications in every case," he said.
The next preliminary hearing has been scheduled for October 14.