Army surveillance tapes which could have recorded the murder of a spinster 20 years ago were wiped, an inquest into her death was told.
Roseann Mallon, 76, was killed when loyalist gunmen opened fire on a house at Cullenrammer Road, Dungannon, Co Tyrone in May 1994.
Barry Macdonald QC, who is representing her next of kin, said: “These tapes were wiped. Almost entirely.”
According to Mr Macdonald scraps of edited recordings were retained but the bulk of footage from the day of the shooting and the previous three weeks were destroyed.
The long-awaited inquest, at Belfast’s Laganside court complex, also heard how the police officer leading the hunt for the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) killers was not told about the covert army operation which had been filming the Mallon house since April 1, 1994.
Kenneth McFarland, a former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) detective chief inspector, said he only found out about the camera after being contacted by a solicitor two months after the attack.
Mr McFarland, who retired in 2002, said he had requested information from Special Branch but was informed they had nothing that could assist his case.
He said: “Special Branch operated on a need to know basis. If they felt you did not need to know it, you didn’t know it.”
Claims of security force collusion were made after the unmanned, two feet wide camera was found concealed in a field overlooking the house and adjacent engineering workshop used by Ms Mallon’s nephews Martin and Christopher.
It transmitted footage to soldiers in a nearby wood.
A number of people including loyalist terror chief Billy Wright were arrested and questioned in the wake of the shooting but no one has ever been charged with or convicted of the murder.
Mr McFarland said he had been frustrated by the lack of co-operation from Special Branch and had been keen to locate the camera.
“It was taken as read this was an undercover operation. From my point of view the important (thing) was to get my hands on the camera to see if it could assist me.”
He later added: “I felt frustrated. I would have liked all the evidence at the time.”
When asked by Mr Macdonald if it was “indefensible” that the recordings were never handed over, Mr McFarland replied: “I would have thought the best course of action would have been to provide my team with the tapes.”
But, the retired officer said he did not believe his inquiry had been critically undermined.
The inquest is scheduled to last for two weeks and is expected to hear from two special branch officers whose identity has not been made public.
A number of soldiers also due to give evidence have been granted anonymity despite objections from the Mallon family.
It was among 29 controversial Troubles-related inquests awaiting a full hearing.