Loyalist released after blaming gun on dog

A judge at Belfast Crown Court has released a north Belfast loyalist who claimed that a handgun found in his bedroom had been dragged in by his dog.

The 8mm pistol was found wrapped in a black sock in a drawer under the divan bed of James Haddock at the height of the UDA feud last November.

Sentencing James Haddock to 200 hours community service, Judge Denise Kennedy said she was unconvinced by the story, but was prepared to accept he had made a mistake which he now regretted.

Haddock's community service order for possession of a handgun, comes just weeks after north Belfast loyalist Andre Shoukri had a six-year jail sentence quashed despite being caught red handed with a pistol and ammunition last September.

In June, County Down loyalist Darren Watson escaped being jailed despite being caught with a handgun, which efforts had been made to re-activate.

When arrested in April 2002 Watson had just been released from a five-year jail sentence for his part in a UDA punishment beating.

In December 2000 UDA man Thomas Potts, who was facing attempted murder charges arising from the UDA/UVF feud, was informed by a court that he ``might'' get bail if the loyalist feud was declared over.

Granted bail, Potts was arrested in August 2002 and earlier this month was convicted of extortion.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Martin Morgan last night claimed there was a growing perception that loyalist paramilitaries were escaping the ``full rigours of the law''.

``Rightly or wrongly there is a strong perception, not only among nationalists but also among the Protestant community, that these UDA godfathers are above the law,'' he said.

``Time after time the police are catching these thugs with guns but when they appear in court they are allowed to walk away scot free.

``It almost seems as if the courts are apologetic in having to pursue convictions against these people.''

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