Relatives of the victims of a notorious British state agent watched as Gary Haggarty answered guilty to a lengthy list of charges at Belfast Crown Court on Friday.
As head of the UVF’s notorious Mount Vernon unit in north Belfast, top loyalist paramilitary Gary Haggarty carried out a number of murderous attacks in collusion with police Special Branch in an apparent effort to pressure the Provisional IRA into calling a ceasefire.
His paramilitary crimes continued for years afterwards while he remained on the British payroll for years afterwards. He is currently living in hiding under state protection as a “supergrass”.
Waiting outside court as Haggarty pleaded guilty were relatives of Sean McParland, a Catholic father of four children shot dead by Haggarty in south Belfast in 1994; Eamon Fox and Gary Convie, both shot dead on a building site in May 1994; and Sean McDermott, a single Catholic man shot dead in his car near Antrim, just hours before the IRA ceasefire of August 1994.
Another victim was John Harbinson, a Protestant killed after being abducted in the loyalist Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast in May 1997. The latter killing was originally reported by the PSNI (then RUC) as a “domestic incident” but it later transpired it was another murder by the UVF in north Belfast.
It was after Haggarty was charged in connection with that murder in 2009 that he was officially designated as an “assisting offender”. It is believed that Special Branch police had high grade intelligence about those responsible for the murder but that they covered it up, presumably to protect Haggarty.
The son of one of Gary Haggarty’s five victims said the serial killer should face jail and never be released.
Ciaran Fox was aged 18 when his dad Eamon was gunned down with his workmate as they ate lunch in a car by a building site at North Queen Street in north Belfast on May 17, 1994.
Speaking outside court, Mr Fox expressed anger that Haggarty had committed murders while he was a paid state agent.
“The police knew what was going to happen and took no action to stop it,” he said.
“Basically, he was just a hitman - he killed at will. Police knew my father and Gary Convie were both going to be murdered and they sat back and let it happen. And that’s hard to swallow.”
He also cast doubt on whether Haggarty would ever end up being a ‘supergrass’ and become a prosecution witness.
“This goes right to the top. There are too many people going to get their hands burnt,” he said.
“His hands are deep in blood along with people he’s going to expose and, because of who he’s going to expose, I think it’s not going to finish.”
Mr Fox said he found it difficult to accept that Haggarty would receive a reduced sentence.
“He was bold as brass ... It was water off a duck’s back,” he said. “That’s the hard part, just knowing he is going to walk a free man”.
As well as the five murders, the 45-year-old admitted five attempted murders, 23 counts of conspiracy to murder, directing terrorism, membership of an illegal organisation, kidnap, possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives as well as hijacking, false imprisonment, arson, intimidation and conspiracy to riot.
But Haggarty could walk free on the basis of three years served as a result of his ‘cooperation’ with Special Branch.
It is understood Haggarty has made allegations against 14 fellow loyalists including four murders, and is supposed to testify against them. But such supergrass trials have in the past almost always ended in either failure to convict, or convictions have been quashed on appeal, often in suspicious circumstances.