Pensioner killers hunt frustrated
A cold case review of more than 20 loyalist attacks during the Troubles has failed to unearth any fresh evidence that could potentially identify the killers of a Co Tyrone pensioner, a court has heard.
An inquest into the UVF murder of Roseann Mallon in 1994 was adjourned last year to allow the police's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to examine 17 murders and seven attempted murders in east Tyrone between 1988 and the year of her death.
Lawyer for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Dennis Rooney told judge Mr Justice Weir, who is presiding over the inquest, that a review of intelligence, forensic and other evidential exhibits had not produced new evidence regarding Ms Mallon's shooting near Dungannon.
"No new evidential opportunities have been identified regarding the murder of Roseann Mallon," he said at a preliminary review hearing in Belfast's Laganside court.
Mr Rooney said police were seeking one witness in relation to one of the other cases but indicated officers believed it unlikely that he would provide evidence directly relevant to the Mallon case.
Judge Weir, who said he was keen to restart the inquest at the earliest opportunity, queried how police could predict what information the witness would provide before interviewing him.
"A police interview is like a woolly jumper," he said.
"You get a loose thread and tug at it and before you know you might have a long length of wool and it can pertain to matters that they didn't think they would be dealing with."
Ms Mallon, 76, was gunned down as she watched television at a relative's house on May 8, 1994.
The spinster, who had been staying there because she felt vulnerable, was unable to escape when two loyalist gunmen indiscriminately opened fire on the bungalow at Cullenrammer Road.
The UVF said its mid-Ulster brigade had been responsible and were targeting two of her nephews Christopher Mallon, who was not home at the time, and Martin Mallon, who lived half a mile away.
In the wake of the shooting, Army spying equipment was found in a nearby field sparking claims of security force collusion.
Notorious killer Billy Wright and two other loyalists were arrested and questioned about Ms Mallon's murder but no-one has ever been convicted.
Prior to the adjournment of the already long delayed inquest late last year it emerged that initial forensic analysis of the gun used in the murder had failed to link it to eight other shooting incidents.
Mr Rooney confirmed that new tests had established that the Czech-bought assault rifle had been used in all nine shootings in east Tyrone. He said a further review of evidence had found no links to any shootings outside that geographic area.
Mr Weir said it was important to establish what caused the original error.
"What were the lab processes that led to the mis-identification of the weapon used in each of those other eight cases," he said. "A pretty large mistake was made."
The judge added: "Police seem to have thought for years that this was a weapon that was only used in one incident, now it appears to have been used in nine. I think that would have been potentially useful for police on the ground trying to get to the bottom of all these murders."
Mr Rooney said it appeared the mistake originated from the mis-attribution of another weapon.
Barry MacDonald QC, representing Ms Mallon's relatives, said an application had been made for legal aid to fund an independent forensic examination of the ballistic evidence before the inquest resumes.
He said any expert commissioned would need to review the "processes and results" of the testing done to date.
Mr Rooney said the witness police were seeking in relation to one of the other loyalist attacks in east Tyrone was proving difficult for officers to locate as he may have left the jurisdiction.
Justice Weir replied: "Well, they may have to get on a plane then."
The judge set November 4 as the date for the inquest to resume with lawyers set to reconvene for another review hearing next month to update him on progress over outstanding issues.