Showdown for Mount Vernon gang

A trial involving 14 unionist paramilitaries which begins this week could see new revelations of conspiracy, collusion and hidden agendas by the PSNI police.

The so-called ‘supergrass’ case at Belfast Crown Court is the largest to take place in the Six Counties in more than 25 years.

The UVF men face 97 charges ranging from murder to blackmail. They belong to the notorious Mount Vernon UVF, a North Belfast death squad whose deep links to the murderous PSNI police Special Branch were exposed in an investigation by former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.

The trial will hear accusations that some of those charged with the murder of a rival paramilitary leader, Tommy English, were in fact PSNI agents at the time of the killing. UDA gangster English was murdered at his home north of Belfast during a feud between the two main pro-British paramilitary groups.

The man accused of killing him is Mark Haddock, one of the reputed leaders of the UVF in north Belfast. Haddock was then himself targeted after he was unmasked as a PSNI informer.

There have been allegations from different quarters against other UVF figures. A prominent north Belfast UVF man is widely believed to have also been a long-time British double-agent.

It is thought the UVF could engage in fresh acts of violence this week over fears that the trial process could expose other members and agents.

Among the incidents that have already been linked to UVF anger at the trial are the three-day attack on the Catholic enclave of Short Strand in June, as well as co-ordinated riots in Belfast and County Antrim.

At the height of the first supergrass trials between 1982 and 1985, 25 men turned Crown’s evidence.

But the system collapsed in 1985 after a judge ruled that another informer’s testimony was “unworthy” and almost all of those who had not already been convicted were freed.

Mount Vernon UVF members have been blamed for a string of killings over the past 15 years. Seven victims were named in the Dublin parliament in 2005:

Sharon McKenna, a 27-year-old Catholic shot dead in 1993 at the Shore Road home of a pensioner she was visiting. It was claimed in the Dail that Mark Haddock committed this murder himself. It has also been alleged that he carried out the shooting to prove to a UVF boss that he was not an informer.

Gary Convie and Eamon Fox, Catholic builders shot dead on North Queen Street in 1994

Thomas Sheppard, a Coleraine Protestant shot dead in a Ballymena bar in 1995.

Rev David Templeton, a Presbyterian clergyman who died in March 1997, six weeks after a vicious beating by a UVF gang in his Newtownabbey home

Billy Harbinson, a Protestant who was handcuffed and beaten to death on the Mount Vernon estate in 1997

Raymond McCord Jnr, a former RAF man, beaten to death in Ballyduff quarry in Newtownabbey in November 1997.

The victim had been caught by police transporting cannabis. It is alleged that the haul was Mark Haddock’s and that he ordered the killing - while behind bars for the Golden Hind attack - to prevent the UVF’s Shankill leadership discovering his involvement in drugs.

It was also claimed that another PSNI agent, named as John Bond, was present at this murder.

A long campaign by Mr McCord’s father, Raymond Snr, to expose his killers led to a huge Police Ombudsman investigation. The findings of that report are expected to feature heavily in the trial, which opens this [Tuesday] morning.

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