Loyalists gunned down arthritic pensioner in Dungannon

Martin Mallon, nephew of Roseann Mallon, leaves an inquest into her death at Laganside court in Belfast. Paul Faith/PA Wire
Martin Mallon, nephew of Roseann Mallon, leaves an inquest into her death at Laganside court in Belfast. Paul Faith/PA Wire

An arthritic pensioner was gunned down in a hail of bullets as she tried to flee to safety, an inquest heard on Monday.

Roseann Mallon, 76, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, was hit multiple times in the back, head and limbs when loyalist gunmen opened fire on a house in May 1994.

The spinster, who was staying with her sister-in-law because she was afraid of being robbed, suffered lacerations to her heart, lungs and intestines as well as four fractured ribs and died almost instantly.

“The combined effect of these injuries would have been rapid death,” said Deputy State Pathologist Dr John Press in a statement read to the court.

A long-delayed inquest into the circumstances surrounding her death is being heard by High Court Judge, Mr Justice Weir at Laganside complex in Belfast.

The case is one of 29 controversial legacy inquests from the Troubles.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) claimed its mid-Ulster brigade had set out to target relations of Ms Mallon who were involved in the republican movement.

Even though a number of people including the former Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright were arrested and questioned, no one has ever been convicted of the killing.

In the wake of the shooting, British Army surveillance equipment including a hidden camera was also found in a field overlooking the house sparking claims of security force collusion in the killing. The unmanned camera transmitted footage to soldiers stationed in a nearby wood.

Ms Mallon’s nephew and godson Martin Mallon told the court he had the equipment tested by a professional cameraman and was told it had been fitted with a night-sight and was capable of filming close-ups of his mother’s house at Cullenrammer Road and an adjacent engineering workshop.

He rejected Ministry of Defence claims that it could only operate during daylight hours.

“The man that examined the camera had worked for the BBC or UTV and he said that there was a night-sight. He also said that it zoomed in and out,” said Mr Mallon.

He also revealed he had seen a green-coloured car scouting the area close to his mother’s house earlier in the evening and believes that the camera could have recorded the identity of the driver.

The inquest was told that in the hours after the shooting on May 8, 1994, Billy Wright and two others known only as ‘suspect four’ and ‘suspect six’ were stopped in a car 15 or 20 miles away from the scene. They were taken to Gough Barracks and questioned but, after refusing to answer questions, were released without charge several days later.

Three other men who were travelling in a Ford Sierra were also arrested after police saw items including masks and gloves being thrown from the vehicle but no one was charged.

Former RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) detective Norman Baxter, who was among the first on the scene, revealed his mobile patrol had taken 25 minutes to drive the four or five miles from Dungannon town to the murder scene.

“I am not aware what patrols were in the area. We were the first at the scene,” he said.

In court, Ms Mallon was described as an intelligent and devout woman who was well-known and loved by everyone, both Catholic and Protestant, in the local area.

She had been watching television in the living room at the rear of the house when the gun attack happened. She barely had time to get off the sofa before she was riddled with bullets.

Bridget Mallon described how she had tried to warn her sister-in-law to find a place of safety.

“I whispered for her to come on quick. I signalled with both hands to come on,” she said in a statement read to the court. “I heard Roseann say ‘oh dear’.”

Mrs Mallon had been speaking on the telephone to her daughter who lived 90 metres away and had seen two men running towards the house.

She also described how she had said prayers and sprinkled holy water over the body.

“I took her hand and shook it, there was no response except a couple of wee sighs,” she added.

Forensic teams recovered nine spent bullet casings from the driveway and recorded more than 15 strike marks throughout the house.

The inquest is scheduled to last for up to two weeks.

It will also hear evidence from soldiers involved in surveillance operations at Bridget Mallon’s home and on the engineering workshop used by her two sons Martin and Christopher.

Some of the soldiers have been granted anonymity while others have been allowed to give evidence from behind screens despite objections from lawyers representing the family.

A retired senior police officer has also been excused because of ill health.

The case continues.