‘Supergrass’ brothers not to be returned to trial, rules North’s DPP

Three-year sentence of loyalist implicated in murder of ‘Sunday World’ journalist Martin O’Hagan to be reviewed

The North's Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory has announced decisions on two high-profile "supergrass" trials, one relating to notorious north Belfast Ulster Volunteer Force leader Mark Haddock and the other to the murdered Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan.

His office has decided not to seek a court review of the heavily reduced three-year sentences imposed on UVF brothers Robert and Ian Stewart for their involvement in a series of crimes, including the murder of UDA leader Tommy English – even though they lied under oath in court.

However, Mr McGrory decided to refer Neill Hyde back to court for his involvement in the 2001 Loyalist Volunteer Force murder of Mr O'Hagan, as well as for other offences. Hyde received a heavily reduced sentence of three years for his part in the killing of the investigative journalist. Mr O'Hagan was gunned down in Lurgan as he was walking home from a night out with his wife Marie in September 2001.

Untrustworthy evidence
Hyde's sentence was reduced from a minimum of 18 years to three years after he agreed to become an "assisting offender" or "supergrass" and testify against his alleged LVF accomplices. However, this trial did not go ahead as expected earlier this year because the DPP's office decided it could not trust Hyde's evidence.


“The specified prosecutor in this case has concluded that there is sufficient evidence that Neill Hyde knowingly breached the terms of his agreement and that it is in the interest of justice that the case be referred back to the original sentencing court,” Mr McGrory said yesterday.

“As this matter is now before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further,” he added. Hyde is currently in prison.

The Stewarts would have served a minimum of 22 years in prison had they not been accepted as “assisting offenders”. They were the chief prosecution witnesses in the 72-day trial – costing £11.5 million – of 13 alleged UVF members. They were charged with a series of offences, including the murder of UDA leader Tommy English in October 2000 during a loyalist feud.

Twelve of the 13, including Haddock, were acquitted of all charges after the judge found that the Stewarts had lied in some of their evidence. A 13th man, Neil Pollock, was convicted of possessing items intended for terrorism and of intending to pervert the course of justice.

When the men were acquitted in February 2012, Mr Justice Gillen said the Stewart brothers were "ruthless terrorists who lived on a daily diet of lies".

The Stewarts have served their three-year sentences and are now in a witness protection programme.

Deputy DPP Pamela Atchison said the sentences of the Stewarts were not referred back to court because, while they had lied and while they had breached the terms of their “assisting offender” agreements, this did not have a material bearing on the result of the case.

“It is important to point out that none of the breaches that I identified falsely implicated any individual in the commission of a crime and none would have led to the conviction of any of the accused in the trial. I also concluded that the breaches did not play a significant role in the outcome of the trial,” she said.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times