Delays to an inquest for a murdered Dungannon pensioner mean lawyers often leave court “with their two arms the one length”, a High Court judge has said.
Mr Justice Weir condemned the slow progress on the Roseann Mallon case and levied particular criticism at the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for the latest setback.
Judge Weir said: “I am conscious there are other cases ongoing and I do not want people going away with their two arms the one length which unfortunately seems to happen often in this case.”
The hearing in Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice was told the PSNI has not completed its response to questions about a so-called NCND (neither confirm nor deny) policy on informants.
Kevin Rooney QC representing the PSNI and Ministry of Defence (MoD) said efforts were being made to finish the task as “expeditiously” as possible but an answer would not be ready until next week.
He said: “The exercise that is being carried out by the police is almost finished. It should be done by next Monday.”
Legal representatives for the Mallon family do not accept responses given by two police witnesses who declined to confirm or deny whether the murder suspects were working as State agents.
Judge Weir also hit out at the PSNI for trying to dictate the pace of the case.
“It is rather disappointing to set aside this afternoon to deal with this matter and then to find out that police do not intend to deal with it until next Monday,” he added.
“Why do I bother setting a timetable? Why don’t the police decide when the case is heard and tell me?
“We are all busy. I am busy; you (Mr Rooney) are busy; counsel, I am sure, are busy.
“The press come; other interested people come; and I think they are right to have an expectation that something will happen on these occasions.”
Miss Mallon, 76, was shot dead when loyalist paramilitaries attacked her sister-in-law’s Co Tyrone home in May 1994.
The UVF said its notorious mid-Ulster brigade was responsible and was targeting two of Ms Mallon’s nephews, Christopher Mallon - who was not home at the time - and Martin Mallon, who lived half a mile away. Both were involved with the republican movement.
In the aftermath, military spying equipment was found in a nearby field, sparking claims of security force collusion.
The covert camera was relaying footage to an Army unit posted in a nearby wood. The inquest has previously heard how tape recordings were wiped and the camera was unable to operate in poor weather and darkness.
No one has ever been convicted of Miss Mallon’s killing although high-profile killer Billy Wright, who was murdered in 1997, and two other loyalists were arrested and questioned.
In December 2013, the inquest was dramatically halted after it emerged that the weapon used to murder Miss Mallon had been linked to at least six other loyalist killings in the east Tyrone area.
The Czech-bought assault rifle was part of a consignment used by loyalists during the 1980s and early 1990s.
However, the little-known police intelligence unit - the Weapons and Explosives Research Centre (Werc) - which operated alongside the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Agency examined the gun and erroneously determined it had no history.
Judge Weir said more must be done to bring the long-running inquest to a conclusion.
He said: “In the context of the date of the death, I really think we should be making an effort to get the case completed. It is not the first time I have said that.”
A date for another hearing was not fixed.