Mallon attack gun 'used in murders'
The gun used to shoot pensioner Roseann Mallon almost 20 years ago has been linked to at least six other murders, a coroner's court has heard.
The Czech-manufactured assault rifle was used to kill a couple in The Moy, Co Armagh in 1992 and four other men in Cappagh, Co Tyrone in 1991, new ballistics tests have confirmed.
The long-delayed inquest, now in its fourth week, could now face even further hold-ups while the police review the evidence.
Barry Macdonald QC, acting for the Mallon family, said: "This is a surprising and disturbing state of affairs."
Ms Mallon, 76, was shot dead as she watched television at a house in Dungannon, Co Tyrone on May 8, 1994.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claimed its mid Ulster brigade was responsible and had been targeting two of the spinster's nephews, Christopher and Martin Mallon who were involved in the republican movement.
No one has ever been convicted in connection with her murder, although notorious loyalist Billy Wright and two others were arrested and questioned.
The inquest has been told the AK47-replica gun used in the attack was part of a consignment and was the weapon of choice for loyalist paramilitaries during the late 1980s and early 90s.
In the wake of the shooting, forensic tests on spent bullet cases recovered from the murder scene and a high velocity rifle found hidden nearby concluded the gun was not involved in any previous attacks.
But a new investigation by the Historical Enquiries Team - a specialist unit set up to re-examine Troubles-related cold cases - has linked the VZ-58 rifle to the UVF killings of Charles and Theresa Fox at The Moy in 1992, as well as the murders of John Quinn, Dwayne O'Donnell, Malcolm Nugent and Tommy Armstrong outside a bar in Cappagh in 1991.
It was microscopically matched to nine spent bullet cases recovered from the Fox's murder scene and 14 casings from Cappagh, the court heard.
Dennis Rooney, barrister for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Ministry of Defence said: "There was evidence that the cartridges found at the murder of Charles and Theresa Fox and also the murders of the four individuals at Cappagh in 1991 can be linked directly to the weapon used in the murder of Mrs Mallon."
Later, Mr Rooney added: "How could this possibly have been missed back in 1994?"
The court was told that the HET has known about the link since last month.
The inquest was scheduled to conclude tomorrow but High Court judge Mr Justice Weir said it was now unlikely.
"It seems to me that we cannot possibly conclude the inquest until we have further clarity," he said.
"There were a considerable number of murders in this general area at that particular time. I would not want to find out half way through looking at these other murders that it is only the tip of the iceberg."
The case is one of 29 controversial Troubles-related inquests and has been waiting almost two decades for a full hearing.
Barrister for the Coroner's Service Sean Doran said they would be demanding an explanation from the HET about what prompted their latest investigation.
He said: "We are all agreed that this development is going to add further episode to the inquest. Further evidence is going to have to be heard in relation to this matter.
"It raises broader questions about disclosure by the HET and PSNI to the Coroner's Service."
Ms Mallon's murder is shrouded in controversy after Army spying equipment including a camera was discovered in a field overlooking the house and adjacent engineering works sparking claims of security force collusion.
Soldiers involved in the secret surveillance operation have told the court the camera was incapable of filming at night or in poor weather and would not have been recording at the time of the murder.
The hearing has been adjourned until Thursday. Mr Justice Weir warned that he may summon representatives from the HET, PSNI and Weapons and Explosives Research Centre (Werc) which carried out the 1994 ballistic tests if he does not have the answers he requires.
"We have to make sure these matters do not languish," the judge said.
None of Ms Mallon's relations were in court but relatives of those killed at Cappagh were in the public gallery.
The case continues.