Northern Ireland

UVF supergrass case: 14 including Mark Haddock in court

Mark Haddock
Image caption Mark Haddock is one of nine people charged with the murder of Tommy English

The first 'supergrass' trial in Belfast for 25 years has begun amid high security inside and outside the court.

Fourteen defendants - aged between 32 and 46 - face a total of 97 charges. Nine of them are accused of murder.

It is the largest paramilitary murder trial in Belfast since the 1980s. There are almost 200 people in the courtroom.

The nine charged with murder are accused of being part of a UVF gang which killed leading UDA man Tommy English in October 2000.

Two brothers, David and Robert Stewart, are giving evidence against the 14 accused. In return, the two former UVF men got a reduced sentence for their part in the murder.

Thirteen defendants are in the dock - Haddock has been separated, sitting outside the dock surrounded by prison officers.

Two of his co-accused, Darren Moore and Ronald Bowe, were previously charged with trying to murder Haddock in 2006, but charges were dropped when he refused to give evidence.

Supporters of the friends staged a low-key protest outside Laganside courts against the use of so-called supergrasses.

Halloween murder

Gordon Kerr QC opened the case for the prosecution and took the court back to Halloween night in 2000 when Mr English was murdered.

He outlined the evidence the Stewart brothers will give to the court on how the murder was conceived, planned and carried out

Mr English was gunned down in front of his wife at his home in the Ballyduff estate in Newtownabbey, during a feud between the UDA and the UVF.

Both the UVF (Ulster Volunter Force) and UDA (Ulster Defence Association) are loyalist paramilitary groups responsible for the murder of hundreds of people during the troubles.

It will be the biggest and most expensive criminal trial to be held in Northern Ireland for many years.

The 14 defendants will be represented by 24 barristers and eight firms of solicitors and the trial is expected to last for 11 weeks.

The term supergrass was first used in Northern Ireland in the 1980s when a number of terrorist suspects were convicted on the evidence of former comrades.

Image caption A small number of protestors gathered outside the court in Belfast

However, after a series of appeals, the credibility of the witnesses was called into question and all those convicted under the system were released.

The trial beginning on Tuesday is being held under new legislation introduced in 2005, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which allows a suspect to enter a written agreement to give evidence against other alleged criminals.

The police investigation which led to the arrests followed a damning report by the former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan in 2007.

She said a UVF gang based in the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast had been involved in up to 15 murders and that Special Branch had allowed its informers within the Mount Vernon UVF to act with impunity.

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