Northern Ireland

Tommy English murder accused granted bail in High Court

An alleged former UVF chief accused of murdering a rival loyalist paramilitary boss 10 years ago has been released on bail.

Alexander Thomas Wood, 34, from Milewater Way, Newtownabbey, faces a total of 13 charges, including the murder of UDA chief Tommy English.

The 40-year-old was shot dead in front of his wife during a bloody UVF - UDA feud which claimed seven lives.

Thirteen other people have been charged in connection with his death.

The accused is also charged with being a member of the UVF, possessing guns and involvement in numerous 'punishment attacks' over a seven-year period, between October 1994 and October 2001.

All 14 defendants are to be arraigned on all charges on Friday after two brothers, 35-year-old David Ian Stewart and his older brother Robert Ian Stewart, 39, both from Newtownabbey, turned "supergrass" and identified others allegedly involved and admitted their involvement in the murder and a series of other paramilitary activities.

The brothers were jailed for life earlier this year with a judge giving them "substantial discount" for their admissions and handing down minimum three year jail terms.

A prosecuting lawyer told Belfast Crown Court on Wednesday that according to the brothers, Alexander Wood was the commander of the New Mossley UVF, was involved in planning the murder of Tommy English and was one of two gunmen who carried out the actual killing.

The lawyer said there were also allegations from Robert Stewart that Mr Wood "effectively introduced" him into the UVF in the mid-90's as he was the "commanding officer" of the New Mossley UVF at the time.

"It's his central role in the whole picture which is the foundation of the Crown objections," he said.

Defence QC Arthur Harvey argued that two grounds for refusing bail - fear of further offences and witness intimidation - did not apply as the accused had a clear criminal record and had not been involved in any allegations since 2001, in contrast to the Stewart brothers who continued to involve themselves in crime until 2007.

He further submitted it was "highly improbable to the highest degree that any influence can be brought to bear" on the two main Crown witnesses.

The lawyer said other co-accused had been released on bail and there was nothing which would "distinguish him from the others".

Mr Justice McLaughlin said he had refused bail in the past because the allegations were that a "series of acts were carried out through a conspiracy" and so there was an organisation in the background to potentially interfere with witnesses.

He added however that "things have changed" in the last 18 months including the Stewart brothers pleading guilty and being sentenced, all the defendants being sent for trial after a preliminary enquiry and other co-accused being released on bail.

The judge said that "putting all the factors into the melting pot," he was satisfied Mr Wood could be granted bail of £2,000 with two sureties of £2,000 each, daily reporting to police and a curfew from 2200 GMT to 0800 GMT.

As part of his bail conditions, Mr Wood has been barred from the Ballyduff, Mount Vernon and New Mossley areas and from speaking to his 13 co-accused or potential witnesses.