Ready to kill with a flip of a coin

Former UVF chief Gary Haggarty jailed for life for role in murders

A UVF street mural in Belfast. Former UVF commander Gary Haggarty (45) has been sentenced to life imprisonment for aiding and abetting in murder. File photograph: Getty Images

A UVF street mural in Belfast. Former UVF commander Gary Haggarty (45) has been sentenced to life imprisonment for aiding and abetting in murder. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Ulster Volunteer Force killers had been ready to toss a coin to decide who would kill a defenceless Catholic grandfather, the sentencing hearing of a UVF informer has been told in Belfast

Former UVF commander Gary Haggarty (45) has been sentenced to life imprisonment for aiding and abetting in murder.

Catholic volunteer worker Peter McTasney was shot dead by an Ulster Volunteer Force gang at his home in the outskirts of North Belfast in February 1991.

The opening day of the sentence hearing was told Haggarty and another UVF member were due to toss a coin to determine who would pull the trigger ahead of the murder of Sean McParland (55) in 1994. The court heard Haggarty dismissed the idea and demanded that he would be the killer.

Judge Adrian Colton QC told the defendant: “I impose the only sentence open to the court – that is the one of a life sentence.”

The actual time he will spend behind bars has yet to be fixed.

Grisly details of Haggarty’s crimes and his claims against others were disclosed in court in Belfast for the first time.

In one unrelated case, Haggarty told police of another man’s alleged plan to attack a victim.

Prosecution barrister Ciaran Murphy QC said: “He wanted to cut his throat and hold a mirror in front of him.”

Haggarty has also been convicted of conspiracy to murder Terry Fairfield.

The plan was to lure him to an industrial area in north Belfast and then shoot him in the face and make off on foot, Mr Murphy said.

First ceasefire

His life was spared after the IRA declared its first ceasefire in August 1994.

The court was told details of the alleged role of a man who Haggarty said was a “major supplier” of bullets and mercury tilt switches used in explosives.

Haggarty alleged that he fixed an Uzi machine-gun which was not working properly using equipment at his engineering premises.

Aaron McCone, son of John Harbinson who was beaten to death by loyalists, leaving Laganside Courts in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Aaron McCone, son of John Harbinson who was beaten to death by loyalists, leaving Laganside Courts in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Mr Murphy said: “He never charged the UVF for repairs, always just asking favours.”

Haggarty was involved in a series of fraudulent rackets outlined in court.

Following the shooting of two men, they were instructed to make compensation claims to the government for terrorism attacks and half the money was to be paid to the UVF, Mr Murphy said.

Haggarty was also prosecuted in connection with the burning down of an inn and a shop in Newtownabbey near Belfast where extortion was being carried out.

He was involved in defrauding BT by creating chipped BT phones which provided free calls for users.

The prosecution will continue outlining the facts on Thursday morning.

The loyalist paramilitary commander-turned-supergrass witness earlier admitted shooting a defenceless man in the neck at close range and involvement in a series of other crimes.

Long-time informer

The confessions of Haggarty were outlined at Belfast Crown Court today. The long-time police informer pleaded guilty to 202 terror offences, including five murders, as his part of a deal that offered a reduced prison term in return for giving evidence against other terror suspects.

The opening day of the sentence hearing was told Haggarty and another UVF member were due to toss a coin to determine who would pull the trigger ahead of the murder of Sean McParland (55) in 1994. The court heard Haggarty dismissed the idea and demanded that he would be the killer.

Ciaran Fox, son of Eamon Fox who was shot dead by the UVF, speaking outside Laganside Courts in Belfast where a sentencing hearing for loyalist supergrass Gary Haggarty is taking place. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Ciaran Fox, son of Eamon Fox who was shot dead by the UVF, speaking outside Laganside Courts in Belfast where a sentencing hearing for loyalist supergrass Gary Haggarty is taking place. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Crown lawyer Ciaran Murphy QC told Mr Justice Colton that Haggarty said he was handed a promotion within the UVF for shooting Mr McParland after forcing entry to a house on Skegoneill Avenue in Belfast.

Mr McParland, who spoke with the aid of a voice box, was babysitting his young grandchildren at the time. He was not the intended target of the UVF attack but was shot in the neck.

Mr Murphy told the court that Haggarty, once leader of the UVF’s notorious Mount Vernon gang in north Belfast, expressed regret in his admission to detectives. “He said he is sorry, it was the wrong person killed – he is sorry for the kids that were there,” the barrister said.

Innocent men

The sentence hearing was also told Haggarty had acknowledged that two more of his victims – Eamon Fox (44) and Gary Convie (24) – were innocent men and not republican paramilitaries as loyalists claimed at the time of their shooting in 1994.

The Catholic workmen were shot while they ate lunch in their car at a building site on North Queen Street in Belfast.

Haggarty claims he was not the gunman on that occasion, but that he escorted the killer to the location, shaking hands with him just prior to him opening fire on the men through a fence.

“He said he did not believe the victims were republicans, just soft, easy targets,” Mr Murphy said.

Mr Fox’s son Ciaran was one of a number of victims’ relatives in court as the details of Haggarty’s actions were recounted.

Haggarty also admitted being in the gang that abducted unemployed taxi driver John Harbinson in Belfast in 1997 prior to a brutal beating that killed him. Haggarty claimed he later went to retrieve a gun to deliver a “punishment” shooting on the 39-year-old but that colleagues had already administered the fatal beating in an alleyway.

Charge sheet

Due to the need to outline details of all 200-plus offences on Haggarty’s charge sheet, the sentence hearing is expected to take at least two days.

Haggarty has already spent a number of years in custody on remand.

Prosecutors have announced he is to be used as a witness in the prosecution of an individual for the murders of Mr Fox and Mr Convie. However, the vast majority of individuals named by Haggarty in his police interviews will not face prosecution, amid concerns about a lack of supporting evidence.

Prosecutors have said Haggarty’s evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against 11 suspected UVF members and two former police intelligence officers, allegedly his then-handlers.

As well as the five murders, Haggarty, who is in protective custody, has also admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; 23 counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.

He was interviewed more than 1,000 times by detectives in one of the biggest and most complex cases undertaken in Northern Ireland.

The catalogue of offences stretch over a 16-year period from 1991 to 2007 and include the loyalist murders of Mr Harbinson, Mr McParland, Mr Convie, Mr Fox and Sean McDermott. Mr McDermott, a 37-year-old Catholic, was abducted and murdered by the UVF in Antrim in 1994.

PA