Roseann Mallon murder gun 'tampered with by RUC Special Branch'
Special Branch may have tampered with the weapon used to murder pensioner Roseann Mallon before it was examined by forensic experts, a coroner's court has heard.
An abrasive material, possibly sandpaper, was used to distort the firing pin of the Czech-bought assault rifle which has been linked to eight other loyalist shootings, an inquest was told.
Jonathan Greer, a forensic scientist who re-examined the gun in 2013, said the action may have been a deliberate attempt to hinder the identification process.
He said: "It looked as if somebody had taken the firing pin and abraded it... with sandpaper. It could have been part of a cleaning regime or possibly to make it look like it came from a different weapon."
Roseann Mallon (76) was gunned down while watching TV at a relative's house in Co Tyrone on May 8, 1994. The spinster, who had arthritis, was unable to escape when UVF gunmen opened fire at the bungalow at Cullenrammer Road, Dungannon.
Murdered killer Billy Wright and two other loyalists were arrested and questioned - but no one was convicted. A long-awaited inquest has resumed at Belfast's Laganside court complex after an adjournment of more than a year. It was said that, in 1994, a little-known police intelligence unit - the Weapons and Explosives Research Centre (Werc) - had operated alongside the Forensic Science Agency and examined weaponry before it was passed to civilian scientists.
Dr Ruth Griffin, a senior forensic scientist, said: "If it is only a firearms examination that is required, then it can go to Werc first."
Procedures were changed in 1997 to give first access to forensic scientists, the court was told.
Barry Macdonald QC, barrister for the Mallon family, claimed the existence of Werc - a unit which fell under the remit of RUC Special Branch - created "scope" for the tampering of evidence.
The inquest was told nine spent bullet casings were recovered from the Mallon murder scene and sent to the forensic science lab. But by a day after the shooting, Werc had already concluded there was no history for the weapon from which they were fired, the court heard.
But Sean Doran, barrister for the Coroners Service, said it has been established that the VZ-58 rifle used in the Mallon murder can be linked by microscopic analysis to eight other loyalist killings.