Thirteen suspects in ‘supergrass’ case will not face trial

Evidence of loyalist paramilitary Gary Haggarty will not be used against group

Former senior loyalist paramilitary turned so-called supergrass  Gary Haggarty. Photograph: Pacemaker

Former senior loyalist paramilitary turned so-called supergrass Gary Haggarty. Photograph: Pacemaker

 

Thirteen people implicated in paramilitary violence by a loyalist commander-turned supergrass, including two former police intelligence officers, will not be prosecuted, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has announced.

The North’s director of public prosecutions Barra McGrory, QC, said on Wednesday that he had decided not to use the evidence of the so-called supergrass and convicted murderer Gary Haggarty against 11 suspected Ulster Volunteer Force members and two former RUC special branch officers.

Had the evidence been used by the PPS, the suspects could have faced charges in relation to four UVF murders in the 1990s. Three other suspected UVF members still potentially could face murder charges based on Haggarty’s evidence.

Haggarty (45), a former UVF commander in north Belfast and east Antrim, agreed in 2010 to give evidence against 14 of his former UVF colleagues and two of his former police handlers in relation to the murders of Sean McParland, Eamon Fox, Gary Convie and John Harbinson.

In June he pleaded guilty to these murders and also to the murder of 37-year Sean McDermott in Antrim in August 1994. Mr McGrory said that he has yet to decide if the three remaining suspected UVF members can be prosecuted on Haggarty’s evidence. “Assessing the credibility of an assisting offender is a complex task,” said Mr McGrory.

“In relation to Gary Haggarty given all the relevant circumstances including his admitted criminality I consider that his evidence alone is insufficient to prove an allegation beyond a reasonable doubt,” he continued.

“I have reached the clear view that where he has provided information implicating another there must be sufficient corroborating evidence to support the allegations for a case to meet the test for prosecution.”

One of the three who potentially could still face prosecution allegedly is implicated in the murders of Catholic workmen Mr Convie and Mr Fox in north Belfast in 1994 while Haggarty also named two other UVF suspects in relation to the murder John Harbinson, a Protestant killed by the UVF in north Belfast in May 1997.

Three remaining suspects

Mr McGrory said that he would decide on the cases of the three remaining suspects before Haggarty is sentenced for a catalogue of paramilitary crimes at the end of this month.

“I fully appreciate that this news will be deeply disappointing for the victims in these cases,” he said. “I understand that this will not just be because of the disappointment or anger they may feel about the decisions but also because today is another day where they will be revisiting the pain of events from many years ago.”

In June at Laganside Crown Court Haggarty pleaded guilty to 202 crimes committed over a 16-year period from 1991 to 2007 when he was a member of the UVF. For most and possibly all of that period he was also acting as a police informant.

His two former police handlers had faced potential charges based on Haggarty’s evidence but Mr McGrory also decided that Haggarty’s evidence on its own would not be sufficient to prove allegations beyond a reasonable doubt against them.

Five murders

Haggarty’s offences included five murders, five attempted murders, 25 conspiracies to murder, four counts of directing terrorism, four kidnappings, six false imprisonments, five hijackings, numerous explosives-related charges, 18 woundings, and numerous other paramilitary-related offences. A further 304 lower and separate offences were taken into consideration.

All five murders were committed before the 1998 Belfast Agreement so under the early release scheme of the agreement the maximum he could serve for those killings is two years. However, many of the other offences of which he was convicted were so sufficiently serious that they would in normal circumstances lead to very lengthy sentences.

Because he is a so-called supergrass or “assisting offender” Haggarty is virtually certain to receive a heavily discounted sentence. He already has served three years in custody on remand so potentially he may serve no further time in prison.

On release he will enter a witness protection programme. During the process to establish whether Haggarty might be deemed a credible “assisting offender”,he gave more than 1,000 interviews to police, resulting in 23,000 pages of interview transcripts. The failure of so many potential prosecutions has raised further doubts about the future viability of the supergrass system.

Haggarty pleaded guilty to four sectarian murders and one murder of a Protestant man. The victims were Sean McParland, a 55-year-old Catholic father of four children who was shot dead in south Belfast in February 1994; Catholic workmen Eamon Fox (44), a married father of six, and Gary Convie (24), a father of a young child, who were shot dead in north Belfast in May 1994; Sean McDermott, a 37-year-old single Catholic shot dead in Antrim; and John Harbinson, a Protestant murdered after being handcuffed and beaten in the loyalist Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast in May 1997.