Northern Ireland

UVF supergrass accused refuse to give evidence

Artist's impression of the defendants and prison officers in the dock
Image caption An artist's impression of the defendants and prison officers in the dock

The accused men at the centre of a UVF supergrass trial in Belfast will not give evidence on their own behalf.

They deny a series of charges made on the word of brothers Robert and Ian Stewart.

The Crown Court trial of 14 men, includes alleged former UVF leader in north Belfast, Mark Haddock.

In Belfast on Tuesday, lawyers revealed that the accused would not be taking the witness box in their own defence.

The judge asked if the defendants were aware that the court "may draw such inference as it deems proper".

The defence lawyers in turn informed the judge that they had advised their clients as to the implications,

Although the 13 remaining accused are not giving evidence, one of them, Ronald Trevor Bowe, will be calling a doctor to give medical evidence on Wednesday.

One defendant David Jason Smart, 38, from Milewater Close, Newtownabbey, was freed from the dock after the court heard that the prosecution were not challenging the judge's ruling that he had no case to answer.

The prosecution are also not challenging the judge's decision to acquit several others of involvement in two punishment beatings.

However, at the time Mr Justice Gillen said his finding on those charges did not apply to the evidence of the Stewart brothers relating to the murder of UDA man Tommy English in Newtownabbey and to another punishment beating and to the allegations of UVF membership.

Accused of Mr English's murder along with Mark Haddock are David Miller, 40; Alex Wood, 35, John Bond, 45, Darren Moore, 42, Ronald Bowe, 35, Samuel Higgins, 35, Jason Loughlin, 36, and Philip Laffin, 34.

They also face charges such as UVF membership, wounding, possessing guns and hijacking.

The four who deny offences such as assisting offenders and perverting justice are William Hinds, 46, David McCrum, 32, Mark Thompson, 37, and Neil Pollock, 36.

The trial which is one of the biggest and most expensive criminal trials in Northern Irish legal history began last September.

Much of it has been taken up by the testimonies of Robert Stewart and his brother Ian. They have admitted UVF membership, and already served more than three years for their part in the murder of Mr English on Halloween night 2000.

He was shot dead in front of his wife and children at his home on the Ballyduff estate+ at the height of a loyalist feud between the UVF and UDA.

Under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, the Stewarts have signed an agreement committing them to giving truthful evidence about the men in the dock.

In such cases, so-called "assisting offenders" can have their sentences reduced in return.

In the case of the Stewart brothers, both have avoided the prospect of a further 19 years in jail, providing they are seen to have kept the agreement.

They handed themselves in to police in August 2008, and underwent more than 330 police interviews in total, some of them at secret addresses outside Northern Ireland.