1. ITV Report

Loyalist ‘supergrass’ faces sentencing delay

Former UVF commander Gary Haggarty turned supergrass to get a lighter sentence. Credit: Pacemaker

Loyalist paramilitary Gary Haggarty, who pleaded guilty to more than 200 terror offences after turning state’s evidence, is facing a delay in sentencing.

Despite having admitted his part in five murders and a string of other serious offences, the former UVF commander in north Belfast was expected to walk free next week.

However, the Public Prosecution Service has confirmed that sentencing has been postponed.

The PPS can confirm that a sentencing hearing for assisting offender Gary Haggarty, scheduled to commence on 25 and 26 October, will no longer take place on those dates at the direction of the court.

This is to allow time for the prosecution to respond to a number of new matters raised by Haggarty's defence team ahead of sentencing.

– Public Prosecution Service

Haggarty, 45, had turned ‘supergrass’ in a controversial deal that offered him a significantly reduced sentence in exchange for evidence.

However, prosecutors have ruled that there is insufficient evidence to support allegations made against 13 suspects – including two former police intelligence officers.

Although Haggarty’s cooperation has not resulted in any prosecutions, his deal under assisting offender legislation means he will benefit from a greatly reduced tariff.

He has also already served three years in custody on remand – the equivalent of a six-year sentence – so could avoid spending any more time behind bars.

Haggarty, who headed up the UVF’s notorious Mount Vernon unit, pleaded guilty to a catalogue of offences over a 16-year period, from 1991 to 2007.

They include directing terrorism, 23 counts of conspiracy to murder, and membership of a proscribed organisation.

The five murder charges relate to the loyalist killings in north Belfast of John Harbinson, Sean McParland, Gary Convie and Eamon Fox, and of Sean McDermott near Antrim.

  • John Harbinson - beaten to death in the Mount Vernon estate in May 1997
  • Sean McParland - shot in front of his young grandchildren at Skegoneill Avenue in February 1994 - died eight days later
  • Gary Convie and Eamon Fox - shot dead as they ate their lunch in their car at a building site in Tiger’s Bay in May 1994
  • Sean McDermott - shot dead in his car near Antrim in August 1994

Prominent victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord - whose son, Raymond McCord Junior, was murdered by the UVF in November 1997 – has said he is to begin legal action against the PPS for not pursuing the prosecutions.

“I have instructed my lawyers to begin High Court legal action against the (PPS) director Barra McGrory’s decision not to pursue the prosecutions,” he said.

“Papers will be lodged with the court today. I am seeking a judicial review of that decision."

If there is any justice, Haggarty will receive life sentences for five murders and all his other crimes.

He should not receive any benefit from the assisting offender scheme because his evidence was not deemed to be good enough by the PPS to pursue prosecutions.

– Raymond McCord

Defending his decision not to pursue prosecutions, Mr McGrory said recently that assessing the credibility of an assisting offender was a “complex task”.

He added: “Full and careful consideration has been given to all of the evidence currently available in respect of all cases.

“I have now concluded that the evidence currently available is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against 11 of the suspects reported by the PSNI and the two police officers reported by Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.”

Evidence provided by Haggarty linking one suspect to the murders of Mr Convie and Mr Fox, and linking two suspects to Mr Harbinson's murder, are still under consideration by the PPS.