27 October 2005

History: The killing of Roseanne Mallon


25 April 2002

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Roseanne Mallon

The role of Special Branch came under scrutiny again last week, with further media revelations concerning a secret internal report into the investigation of the killing of a Catholic pensioner in 1994.

Questions about the role of Special Branch arising out of the report bear remarkable similarity to those recently exposed by the Police Ombudsman's inquiry into the Omagh investigation, which precipitated an unprecedented public display of outrage by the then Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan.

In both incidents Special Branch, far from acting as facilitators to the murder investigation, deliberately withheld information and in doing so possibly suppressed vital video evidence. In the recent Ombudsman's report, Nuala O'Loan concluded that the investigation into the Omagh bombing had been 'hampered' because Special Branch and the British Army refused to release video evidence.

According to the secret files relating to the killing of Roseanne Mallon, investigating officers were not told about covert British soldiers who were at the scene before, after and during the shooting. Material recorded at the scene by a hidden camera was initially kept secret. Tapes subsequently went 'missing' and British military logbooks were 'unavailable'.

It has been suggested that in the case of Omagh, Special Branch reticence stemmed from a wish to keep their agents in place. In the Mallon case, the main beneficiary appears to have been the chief loyalist suspect and known mass sectarian murderer, Billy Wright.

As an elderly spinster, Roseanne Mallon often stayed at the remote Killymoyle home of her sister-in-law Bridie. On the night of Sunday 8 May 1994, the 76-year-old was watching television alone when loyalist gunmen opened fire through the front window. A moment earlier, Bridie Mallon had left the room to answer a telephone call.

Paula Mallon lived across the road and while speaking on the telephone she saw a car draw up and two men running up the driveway towards her mother's Cullenrammer Road home. She then heard the rattle of gunfire.

As Roseanne Mallon struggled to her feet, she was hit several times and died a short time after the firing stopped. As the window blinds snapped up, giving a clear view of their victim, the killers continued firing. "They knew they were shooting an old woman," said Bridie.

A short time after the incident, elaborate British Army spying equipment was discovered close to the house. Subsequently, the British authorities admitted that at the time of the killing the area was not only subject to a secret surveillance operation but was also being staked out by a covert unit of six British soldiers.

Almost eight years after the brutal events of that night, the inquest into the killing has yet to be held. A number of loyalists were questioned shortly after the killing but without substantial evidence they were quickly released. To date, no one has been convicted in relation to the killing.

The apparent disinterest with which the state has pursued the killers of Roseanne Mallon is far from unique. But the unexpected discovery of British surveillance equipment at the scene has marked out the case as unusual. Unusual, not because the murder scene was under surveillance at the time of the killing but, in the exposure of that fact.

Just over two months after Roseanne Mallon's death, 9 July, a farmer working in a field close to the Mallon home removed what appeared to be a log stuck in a hedge and discovered a cable and transmitting equipment was attached. According to an internal RUC report, the surveillance equipment had been running at least 13 days prior to the killing and continued until it was uncovered in July.

Film footage of two cameras, also discovered at the scene, was subsequently broadcast by UTV. The televised equipment was referred to as one small camera with a wide angled lens and another camera with a powerful telephoto lens. Television commentator Ivan Lyttle said the spy equipment included a modulator and a facility to transmit the picture.

Curiously, despite UTV's unquestionable expertise in relation to camera and transmission equipment, the RUC and British Army vigorously denied that either camera had a zoom or night vision capability. Despite the fact that tapes were wiped and records doctored, a number of admissions still point to the contrary.

One British soldier, described only as Soldier BB, was monitoring transmissions from the Cullenrammer Road operation at Killymeal Barracks in Dungannon on the night of the killing and the following day. Solider BB was present in the operations room when soldiers in the dugout reported hearing a burst of machine gun fire.

According to documentation relating to the case, the operations room log, serial number 557 and dated 9 May 1994 at 1121 hours, carries the entry "still recording".

This entry directly contradicts written statements by British soldiers involved in the covert operation who claim recording of the scene stopped shortly before the killing "due to poor light" and did not recommence until shortly after 4.30pm on the following day.

Soldier BB attempts to explain the anomaly. According to his statement, "although the entry stated, "Still recording", I can say from viewing the log and from memory that tape recordings were not made between 2128 hours on 8 May 1994 to 1631 hours on 9.5.94."

The soldier continues: "The entry 'still recording' means that the OP were still monitoring the area, not that tape recordings were being made." It's a clumsy attempt at a cover up.

First, throughout all other documentation, "recording" is used in a very precise manner and is never substituted to mean "monitoring". Are we really expected to believe that the substitution of the word 'recording' for 'monitoring' appears only during this most crucial entry?

Second, Solider BB claims that the covert unit were not 'still recording' on the grounds that they were 'still monitoring'; this suggests that even when members of the unit were not tape recording events, they were still able to view the scene. Otherwise, what would be the point of 'monitoring'?

Third, as the RUC's own records show, the cameras enabled the covert team to identify vehicles, including reading their registration numbers from a considerable distance - an inconceivable task without the aid of zoom focusing.

We know the soldiers in the stakeout heard the gunfire that resulted in the death of Roseanne Mallon; whether 'recording' or 'monitoring', the big question remains what and who did they see?

According to documents relating to the case, the covert surveillance operation, which involved the deployment of covert British soldiers, was instigated and sanctioned by Special Branch. Two days after the killing of Roseanne Mallon a series of video tapes from the covert surveillance operation were given to a Special Branch officer known only as Constable A.

Constable A, who is believed to be have been a member of the Special Branch team who instigated the covert operation, is reported as having viewed over 28 hours of video footage before declaring there was nothing "to my knowledge which related to the murder of Roseanne Mallon".

Constable A's evaluation was passed to the then head of Special Branch in the South region, Chief Superintendent Frank Murray. Murray informed the CID's Chief Superintendent, Maynard McBurney, about the camera but "nothing had been recorded", said Murray. No further action was taken.

The in-house housekeeping had been done and dusted and it might have stayed that way. On 14 July, the RUC in Dungannon were informed by telephone by a local councillor that camera equipment had been uncovered close to the Mallon home. Deputy Sub Divisional Commander, Chief Inspector James Nixon, took the call. He denied all knowledge of the covert operation.

On 19 July, Detective Chief Inspector Kenneth McFarland was informed of the surveillance find by the Mallon family's solicitor, Martin Donaghy. McFarland was 'unaware' of the covert operation.

On 27 July, UTV broadcast film footage of the equipment and interviewed Christopher Mallon. On camera Mallon said he believed the covert British unit had recorded the murder of his aunt and demanded the tapes be produced.

Two days later five videotapes and four logbooks were handed over to Chief Inspector Eric Anderson. Fourteen hours of tapes, from the day before the killing, were missing, as were some of the logbooks.

Almost a year later in April 1995, Anderson submitted his report to RUC Headquarters. The cameras could not have worked in darkness, concluded Anderson, and therefore were of "no value to the murder inquiry."

While the 'investigation' was going nowhere, the inquest into the killing was being delayed. Last week, despite having already suffered an eight-year delay, a preliminary inquest hearing immediately ran into difficulties after it became clear that the RUC/PSNI had 'failed' to provide statements from the six undercover soldiers at the scene during the killing.

Curiously, despite the absence of the soldiers' statements, which the court was told could be irrelevant to the inquest, the British Ministry of Defence sent a lawyer to the Coroner's Court hearing. Someone, somewhere, it seems, is being remarkably vigilant in relation to information officially deemed of no value.

At the heart of this story is one sinister word and that word is 'collusion' and at the core there are two names, the Special Branch and loyalist killer Billy Wright.

An hour after the killing, Billy Wright and two others were arrested at a checkpoint. The three loyalists were driving away from the area and, they claimed, towards their homes in Portadown. At the time, Wright had told one of the arresting officers that if any firearms residue was found on his clothing he would claim that an RUC weapon had contaminated him.

In the event, the forensic evidence to link Wright with the shooting was inconclusive and the three man were released without charge.

The detectives investigating the killing had detailed information on Wright's contacts just prior to the shooting and details of the vehicles they were driving. But were any of these cars, or the getaway car, on the Cullenrammer Road before the shooting?

Ignorant of the covert surveillance operation underway prior, during and after the killing, the detectives were unable to check details of the gang's vehicles and witness statements describing a suspicious green hatchback car against the covert surveillance unit's detailed log of traffic close to the Mallon house.

In the wake of the killing, a member of the Special Branch team who instigated the covert operation, Constable A, was tasked with viewing the secret video footage and logbooks. To Constable A's 'knowledge', there was 'nothing' which related to the Roseanne Mallon murder.

Meanwhile the detectives with specific knowledge of the chief suspect's contacts and their vehicles were being kept ignorant, not only of information captured on video but also the very existence of the video footage, logbooks and covert unit at the scene during the killing.

But there is an even more sinister twist in the tale. Evidence suggests that Special Branch collusion went much further than protecting a loyalist killer after the event. Amongst documents relating to the killing are two statements by one named individual.

Although named, unlike many of the other statements, the witness is not specifically identified as a member of the Crown forces. Yet in his statement, the witness describes himself as being 'on duty' and talks of completing a CI1 sheet.

Both statements refer to events on 4 May 1994, four days prior to the killing. The first statement refers of an incident at 10.45am, when the witness reports seeing Billy Wright as a passenger in a car amongst traffic on the Dungannon side of Moira.

The second statement refers to an incident at 8pm on the same day. The witness reports seeing one of Roseanne Mallon's nephews driving out of Portadown and towards Dungannon.

The witness links these two separate incidents, on the grounds that the second vehicle was driving along a road where the witness had previously observed Billy Wright. Following the second sighting, the witness reports returning to 'Dungannon' and completing a 'CI1 sheet'.

In other words, four days before the killing, Special Branch link the Mallon family to the subsequent chief suspect, Billy Wright. It is widely accepted that Billy Wright was a Crown forces agent, most probably attached to Special Branch.

The sighting of a member of the Mallon family driving along the same road over nine hours after Wright had been delayed in traffic, in the mind of the Crown forces witness, appeared to constitute a sufficient threat against their agent to warrant taking immediate action.

It is inconceivable that four days later the killing of Roseanne Mallon, by a loyalist death squad most probably led by Billy Wright, was coincidental. Did Special Branch 'tip off' their agent and by suggesting an imagined threat, set up the Mallon family for loyalist attack?

It has been suggested that in the case of Omagh, Special Branch reticence stemmed from a wish to keep their agents in place. In the Mallon case, the main beneficiary appears to have been the chief loyalist suspect and known mass sectarian murderer, Billy Wright.

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