Second error blamed on weapons unit
A defunct police weapons intelligence unit that faced criticism for misidentifying a Troubles' murder weapon has been blamed for a similar error in another legacy shooting.
Belfast Coroner's Court today heard that the RUC's Weapons and Explosives Research Centre (Werc) misidentified a gun used in the loyalist murder of an uncle and his nephew in their family butcher's shop in the Co Tyrone village of Moy in 1992.
John McKearney, 70, and Kevin McKearney, 32, were killed after a UVF gunman burst in to the business at closing time and opened fire.
The disclosure about the Werc ballistics error comes little over a year after the legacy inquest of Tyrone pensioner Roseann Mallon was adjourned when another weapon misidentification issue was revealed.
Werc concluded that one of the weapons used in the spinster's murder near Dungannon in 1994 had no ballistic history, when it later emerged it had in fact links to a series of other contemporaneous murders in the area.
Lawyer Fiona Doherty, representing Northern Ireland's senior coroner John Leckey, referenced the Mallon case error as she revealed the latest issue during a preliminary hearing this morning.
"Unfortunately it seems the same issue had arisen in this case," she said.
Ms Doherty said the error had been flagged up by the PSNI's latter day weapons unit the Centre for Information on Firearms and Explosives (CIFEx).
The lawyer said the court had not been provided details of CIFEx's findings in a letter flagging up the problem.
"It does say an error was made but it doesn't say what," she said.
Dennis Rooney, representing the PSNI, said there were differences with the two cases.
He said the error in the Mallon case related to shootings prior to that murder but in the McKearney case the mistake was made in regard to links to incidents committed after those killings.
Mr Rooney said Werc analysis linking the gun used in the butcher's shop shooting to previous shootings was correct.
"The weapon used in the McKearney case was linked to three incidents prior to that - those are correct," he said.
Kevin McKearney, a married father of four, was killed instantly in the shooting. His uncle was injured and died three months later in hospital.
No-one has ever been convicted of the murders although one man did plead guilty to a conspiracy to murder charge in the mid-1990s.
The murders were investigated by the police's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) in 2012 amid relatives' claims that a death threat received by the family days before the shooting was not properly investigated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
The HET concluded that the RUC did not do enough to prevent the killings.
Before his death, two of Kevin McKearney's brothers were killed while taking part in IRA operations.
Two weeks before the butcher shop shootings, Protestant student Robin Farmer was shot dead by the Irish National Liberation Army in his own family shop in Moy.
The attack at the McKearney business was believed to be a reprisal attack.
Months after his death, Kevin McKearney's father-in-law and mother-in-law were also murdered by the UVF.