Collusion on show at ‘supergrass’ trial
Collusion on show at ‘supergrass’ trial


Masked loyalist paramilitaries were allowed to sit in the public gallery of Belfast Crown Court with the connivance of the PSNI in a shocking act of public intimidation.

Their appearance at a high-profile ‘supergrass’ trial underlined the continuing ties between the pro-British establishment and the UVF murder gangs which still operate with impunity in the north of Ireland.

The gang appeared for two days in a row at the trial into the UVF murder of two Catholic workmen in 1994. Eamon Fox and Gary Convie were shot dead while having lunch in a car, while a third victim in the back seat survived the attack.

The attack took place amid intensifying peace negotiations and three months before the Provisional IRA announced a unilateral ceasefire. Despite a UVF claim to be targeting the IRA, none of the victims had any political involvement.

James ‘Jimmy Shades’ Smyth is currently facing trial for the murders, in which serial-killing British double-agent Gary Haggarty played an important role.

That six men were able to wear masks and baseball caps, one in a union flag hat, for several hours as Haggarty gave evidence. At the time of the murders, he was a UVF commander who was in the pay of the RUC Special Branch police.

There has been a heavy police presence at Laganside courts while Haggarty has been giving evidence. The PSNI (formerly the RUC) did not respond to allegations the gang had been allowed enter the court in an act of collusion.

Haggarty understandably appeared less confident on the second day of his evidence against Smyth as the alleged killer stared at his unsettled former comrade, laughing at times.

The courtroom spectacle is believed to be the first of its kind and both nationalist and unionist politicians expressed their dismay. British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris said he “can’t believe” the masked men were allowed to sit in court.

Relatives of the victims were left shaken by the gang’s appearance. Lawyer for the families, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, said he had expressed his anger to the PSNI.

“The presence of individuals with face coverings and baseball caps in the public gallery created an intimidating atmosphere for the families of the deceased,” he said. “This is unacceptable in a court of law and I made police aware of these concerns.”

Around 20 members of the two victims families have been in the public gallery of the court for each day of the hearings.

Haggarty, who was revealed as an informer in 2009, told the court on Monday the killings were motivated by “pure sectarianism”.

He said he had tampered with a fence to a playpark close to the building site that was used by the gunman to get closer access to the three victims — the only Catholics working on the North Queen Street site.

The court heard how Haggarty wished the alleged killer “good luck” prior to the attack, and that Smyth shouted “up the UVF” after firing his gun at point-blank range.

He said Smyth was unhappy that “he didn’t get the guy in the back” of the car.

In response to questions from the defence barrister, he denied suggestions that he had ‘deceived’ the RUC about his role, which was commander of the Mount Vernon UVF.

“The police knew I was an active terrorist,” he said. “By 1994 I had been arrested for four murders and Special Branch employed me for another ten years. Special Branch knew exactly what I was.”

Haggarty confirmed that he had passed advance information ito Special Branch about the attack and the location of the machine gun used, but they made no effort to prevent it.

Following the atrocity, he said his handler admitted the victims weren’t republicans, just ordinary guys trying to earn a living and trying to do a job.

His RUC handler then told him they were “hitting the wrong targets”. Haggarty said he asked the RUC to provide better targets and was subsequently provided with a list of leading republicans to attack. Neither of Haggarty’s two RUC handlers have ever been identified, although the force has paid out damages in murder cases in which he was involved.

The trial continues.

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