A court in Belfast has heard two days of summing up of the 13-year murderous rampage of PSNI Special Branch agent Gary Haggarty, the names of his victims read out, and the cold and callous way they were targeted and killed.
Haggarty was impassive as details emerged about how coins were flipped to see which UVF paramilitary got to pull the trigger, of drunken binges to celebrate kicking a man to death, and how victims’ characters were blackened to hide the indiscriminate sectarian nature of the attack.
A defence barrister told the court that Haggarty was sworn into the UVF in 1991, and became a Special Branch agent two years later, with a licence to engage in crime and murder on a huge scale.
The most senior loyalist double-agent ever exposed, he volunteered to kill his first Catholic to cover up the fact he was an informer. Sean McParland died after being shot while babysitting in Belfast in 1994.
Belfast Crown Court this week heard details of the 202 crimes Haggary has pleaded guilty to, and a further 300 offences were taken into consideration.
Victims’ families heard graphic details of five murders while knowing those responsible are unlikely to ever be brought to justice. Haggarty himself is ultimately certain to enter into a witness protection program and disappear.
But his evidence not only confirmed the guilt of other informers and double-agents in the Mount Vernon UVF, but also of the RUC/PSNI Special Branch handlers who were facilitating and supporting the murder gang.
Haggarty, an ex-commander of the UVF’s north Belfast unit, worked as a police double agent until 2006, and continued to be heavily involved in murder and other crimes long after the RUC had been recast as the PSNI.
He told his RUC handlers of the plots to murder Raymond McCord Jr in 1997 and Catholic taxi driver Gerard Brady in 1994, but nothing waas done.
In January 2010, as allegations of collusion grew closer, he styled himself as a supergrass - officially referred to as an assisting offender - to escape a lengthy sentence by giving evidence against other UVF members also involved in the crimes he committed.
In total he admitted 503 offences, including five murders, five attempted murders, 25 conspiracies to murder, 66 charges of possession of arms, and four counts of directing terrorism.
In addition to the killing of Sean McParland, he also admitted the murders of: John Harbinson, a Protestant handcuffed and beaten to death by a UVF gang on the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast in May 1997; Catholic workmen Eamon Fox, a father of six; and Gary Convie, a father of one, shot dead as they had lunch together in a car in May 1994; Sean McDermott, a 37-year-old Catholic found shot dead in his car near Antrim in August 1994.
Relatives of some of the victims who were in court heard harrowing details of some of the incidents, of how Sean MacParland was “the wrong person” and that he regretted shooting him in front of his grandchildren.
Michael Monaghan, a son-in-law of Mr McParland, said the family had been deeply distressed by the details of the case heard in court.
“We had to sit there and listen to crime after crime while Haggarty sat there without a care in the world,” he said.
Mr Monaghan, whose four children were being looked after by Mr McParland on the night of his murder, said the family are deeply unhappy at how the case has been handled and are taking legal action.
“You do wonder if it’s better to be a criminal in this country,” he said. “Haggarty is to be sentenced next month and he is probably going to walk. They could say he’s already served his time.”
The court was also told that Haggarty acknowledged that two more of his victims, Eamon Fox and Gary Convie, were innocent men and not republicans as claimed by the UVF at the time, but “just soft easy targets”.
Haggarty also confirmed he had provided his Special Branch handlers with advance reports about a huge range of UVF plans.
These included the murder of Gerard Brady, a Catholic taxi driver shot dead in Antrim in June 1994, and loyalist Raymond McCord Jnr. beaten to death and dumped in a quarry in 1997.
He also admitted that, while working with PSNI Special Branch (C3), he was part of a conspiracy to kill former leading UVF member Mark Haddock. Haddock was shot and badly injured during an attack in north Belfast in 2006 but survived. Haggarty was himself feeding information to police handlers at the time, the court was told.
It was also revealed that Haggarty had provided significant information to the PSNI in relation to the McGurk’s Bar bombing of 1971. No action was taken and the information never emerged in subsequent and recent investigations, adding to concerns about an ongoing cover-up of the truth of that atrocity.
Haggarty and his police handlers have effectively got away with murder in order to protect the State’s role in collusion, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said.
“That is unlikely to change while the British government continues to frustrate all attempts to expose the extent of their collusion with loyalist death squads throughout the conflict,” he said.
“They continue to block the establishment of agreed mechanisms to deal with the past and refuse to fund legacy inquests precisely because they do not want the world to know the truth of their involvement with killers like Gary Haggarty.”