Northern Ireland

Gary Haggarty: Ex-senior loyalist pleads guilty to 200 terror charges

Gary Haggarty Image copyright Sunday World
Image caption Gary Haggarty was facing charges relating to a 16-year period between 1991 and 2007

A former senior loyalist paramilitary turned so-called supergrass has pleaded guilty to 200 charges, including five murders.

Gary Haggarty appeared at Belfast Crown Court this morning amid heavy security.

The 45-year-old replied "guilty" to the charges put to him.

In addition to five murders, he also admitted five attempted murders, 23 conspiracies to murder and four counts of directing terrorism.

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Media captionKieran Fox said his father's murderer should "never see daylight"

He was given five life sentences for the murders, but these will be significantly reduced as he is an assisting offender under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA).

All of the killings, and the majority of the other offences, took place while Haggarty was working as a police informer.

Relatives of the five people he admitted killing and their lawyers watched this morning's court hearing via video link from Laganside Courts.

Kieran Fox, the son of one of Haggarty's murder victims, expressed anger at the deal offered to the killer.

Mr Fox said that, considering the seriousness of the offences Haggarty had admitted, he should go to jail and "never see daylight".

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The scene of the murder of two of Haggarty's victims on North Queen Street, Belfast

Who did he kill?

The murders he admitted to were:

  • John Harbinson, a Protestant who died after being handcuffed and beaten by a UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) gang on the Mount Vernon estate, in north Belfast, in May 1997.
  • Sean McParland, a 55-year-old Catholic father of four, who died a week after being shot while babysitting his grandchildren at his daughter's house, in Skegoneill Avenue, in February 1994.
  • Catholic workmen Eamon Fox (44), a father of six, and Gary Convie (24), a father of one, were shot dead while eating their lunch in a car in North Queen Street on 17 May 1994.
  • Sean McDermott, a 37-year-old Catholic, shot dead in his car near Antrim in August 1994.

Haggarty also admitted aiding and abetting the murder of Peter McTasney, a 26-year-old Catholic shot dead in his home in Newtownabbey in February 1991.

Image caption Eamon Fox and Gary Convie were shot dead while eating their lunch in 1994

Analysis

by BBC News NI home affairs correspondent Vincent Kearney

The investigation into Haggarty's activities has lasted more than seven years.

It's one of the largest ever conducted by the police service in Northern Ireland.

He's been living at a secret address in England since offering to give evidence against former UVF colleagues he claims were also involved in his crimes.

As a former UVF commander for north Belfast and south east Antrim, he's the most senior loyalist ever to become a supergrass.

Haggarty was interviewed more than 1,100 times at secret locations in England and Wales after offering to become what is now officially called "an assisting offender".

He has also offered to give evidence against a number of former police officers he's accused of collusion while he was working as an informer from 1993 to 2004.

The BBC understands he told his interviewers that some of his Special Branch handlers not only protected him from arrest and prosecution, but also actively encouraged his activities.

Those allegations are the subject of a separate, parallel investigation by the Police Ombudsman.

The public prosecution service is to decide whether to prosecute two retired Special Branch officers based on files sent by the Police Ombudsman.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Sean McParland was shot and killed while babysitting his grandchildren

What is a supergrass?

The police bristle at the very mention of the word supergrass because of its association with a series of high-profile trials in the 1980s.

Hundreds of republicans and loyalists were convicted on the word of informers and suspects who agreed to give evidence in return for reduced sentences and new identities and lives outside of Northern Ireland. These deals were done at a political level, with details kept secret.

Technically they were assisting offenders but became known as "touts" and "supergrasses" in the local community.

The system collapsed in 1985 because of concerns about the credibility of the evidence provided by the supergrasses, with members of the judiciary complaining that they were being used as political tools to implement government security policy.

In 2005 a change in law implemented safeguards for trials of this kind.

Haggarty signed an agreement to become an assisting offender under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA).


What will happen now?

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Image caption There was tight security for Haggarty's appearance at Belfast Crown Court

After today's court hearing Haggarty was taken to Maghaberry high security prison, where he will be held in solitary confinement until a decision is made about whether to use him as an assisting offender.

Haggarty has also admitted 304 less serious offences. These will be taken into consideration by the judge when deciding what sentence he will face.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has to decide if it regards him as a "witness of truth".

If it does, he will be back in court in the witness box, not the dock.

Niall Murphy, a solicitor representing some of the victims' families, said: "On 8th September the court will convene again and at that time a direction will be issued from the prosecution service as to their assessment of Mr Haggarty's credibility to be taken forward as an assisting offender and it is on that basis that future prosecutions will be determined."

He said Haggarty is due to be sentenced at the end of September: "At that time a full set of facts will be read out into the court.

"It is only really then that the depth of the detail of his career in the UVF and the supervision offered by Special Branch can be assessed."

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Gary Haggarty was the ex-commander of the Ulster Volunteer Force's north Belfast unit

The PPS has received files relating to four UVF murders based on information provided by Gary Haggarty, and now must decide whether to use him as a witness.

It is understood that up to 15 loyalists, including a number of senior UVF members, could be charged if they conclude that his evidence is credible and reliable.

Haggarty could also be a witness in cases against former Special Branch officers he said helped, protected and encouraged him.

Det Supt Richard Campbell, from PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said: "It has been a very long, arduous and painful process for these families.

"I hope today's proceedings have made a significant contribution to the process of ultimately bringing closure to all the families of the victims of Mount Vernon UVF during that time."

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