UVF case abandoned


Another loyalist ‘supergrass’ case has collapsed with the news that not one of the loyalists or Special Branch police named in court by informer Gary Haggarty will face prosecution.

Haggarty, the former chief of the Ulster Volunteer Force’s notorious Mount Vernon gang in north Belfast, admitted a litany of crimes as part of his deal to give evidence against fellow paramilitaries.

At the heart of a killing campaign, Haggarty worked for the RUC and PSNI police as an informer and was in contact more than 1,000 times with the force. The catalogue of offences he was involved in stretch over a 16-year period from 1991 to 2007 and include the murders of John Harbinson, Sean McParland, Gary Convie, Eamon Fox and Sean McDermott.

In the end, he accused 11 loyalist paramilitaries and two former ‘Special Branch’ police of involvement in murder. But prosecutors eventually claimed Haggarty’s evidence was unreliable, in part because one of his RUC Special Branch handlers was ‘off sick’ when the UVF boss said the pair discussed potential targets.

Victims’ campaigners said the authorities had betrayed those killed by the UVF.

Catholic builders Eamon Fox and Gary Convie were murdered by the Mount Vernon UVF in 1994 as they ate lunch in their car.

Mr Fox’s son Ciaran said: “I am totally disappointed in what we have heard. What we were after has now been taken away from us. It is hard to stomach.”

Raymond McCord, whose son Raymond McCord junior was killed by the UVF in November 1997, said he was sickened by the treatment of Haggarty.

“It was a betrayal of justice, a betrayal of victims’ families”, he said. “What the government, the paramilitary people behind the scenes, the political people have done, is stabbed the victims in the back. We don’t matter.”

Mr McCord said the Stormont administration did not want the case to go to court. “The fear is of having to prosecute security force people past and present,” he said.

It is the second high-profile loyalist ‘supergrass’ case to collapse in controversial circumstances in recent years. Two brothers, Robert and Ian Stewart gave evidence against their former UVF colleagues alleging their involvement in a series of crimes, including the murder of UDA leader Tommy English, but their evidence was dismissed by a judge as worthless after a lengthy trial in 2012.

Another potential supergrass case in the North in doubt involves a top British spy in the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci -- and his handlers -- in the deaths of a number of men and women killed by the IRA’s internal discipline unit, the so-called ‘nutting squad’.

Republicans continue to be jailed under the supergrass system in the 26 Counties. Two men were jailed in March on IRA charges on the basis of informer Dave Cullen’s testimony at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, and a third case went to trial last month.

Despite his record as a ruthless killer, Haggarty is guaranteed a heavily discounted sentence during the two-day sentencing at the end of this month because of his cooperation with the state.

When sentence is passed, he could walk free based on time served. If he does he will walk into a witness protection scheme where he will be financed and provided with a new identity.

Sinn Fein’s policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, expressed dismay at the outcome.

He said that the decision by prosecutors “is hugely disappointing for families of the victims who are rightly asking whether, after more than five years of investigations and admissions, is anyone involved in this case ever going to face prosecution?”

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