Northern Ireland news

Gary Haggarty: Loyalist supergrass jailed for six-and-a-half years

Gary Haggarty, pleaded guilty to 202 crimes including five murders

A notorious loyalist paramilitary commander turned supergrass has been jailed for six-and-a-half years for 202 terror offences as part of a controversial state deal after he gave evidence against other terrorist suspects.

UVF chief Gary Haggarty (46), a long-time police informer, pleaded guilty to the offences, which included five murders.

Haggarty's sentence was reduced from 35 years because he turned state evidence.

He has already served three years in custody.

Haggarty was a paid police informer for 11 years. He turned state witness in 2009 and provided information on 55 loyalist murders in over 1,000 police interviews.

However, only one individual is to be prosecuted over a murder using his evidence.

Justice Adrian Colton told Belfast Crown Court it was a case of "exceptional gravity" and untold damage had been caused to individual lives and society as a whole.

"The fact he was involved directly in multiple terrorist murders must be an aggravating factor.

"He has been involved in a terrorist campaign over a 16-year period that has resulted in deaths for which he was directly responsible.

"The organisation he supported and assisted has resulted in untold damage to individual lives and society as a whole."

Among those killed was grandfather Sean McParland, who was shot dead by Haggarty in front of his children to protect his position as an informer, the judge said.

He sentenced him to 35 years in prison for that offence. This was reduced by 75% for all assistance to prosecutors, then by a further 25% for his guilty plea, producing a tariff of six-and-a-half years in prison before he can be considered for release by Parole Commissioners.

He is also entitled to credit for the time he has spent on remand, awaiting sentence, a total of 1,186 days.

Among the five murders Haggarty was responsible for were that of "soft targets" Gary Convie and Eamon Fox, the judge said.

They were two Catholic workmen shot dead as they ate lunch in their van in North Belfast in 1994.

The judge said: "The victims in this case were particularly vulnerable.

"They were deliberately targeted because of their religion.

"This was a terrorist offence and part of an ongoing sectarian campaign which rendered the offences especially grave."

The judge said Haggarty told police the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) realised someone was talking to the force's Special Branch, which handled informers.

They sought a different target and settled on Mr McParland.

He described how the commander was to flip a coin to decide who would have the lead and backup roles.

To "prove himself" to fellow gang members and avoid suspicion that he was an informer, he volunteered to take the lead role, the judge said.

He shot Mr McParland at close range in the chest. He attempted to shoot again but there was a problem with the gun.

The defendant had 16 years of involvement in the UVF between 1991 and 2007, rising in seniority.

The judge said Haggarty was storing weapons for the UVF gang involved in the Convie and Fox murders.

He obtained weapons for the killings and accompanied the gunman to the scene.

The judge said: "Although the defendant was not the actual gunman in this offence he played a crucial, central and vital role in this murder."

Builder Sean McDermott was abducted by a UVF gang in 1994 and fatally wounded. Haggarty admitted involvement in providing the weapon for the shooting.

He also murdered John Harbinson when he was "provost marshal". A hammer was used to beat Mr Harbinson to death.

The judge said: "After the beating the defendant went and got a carry-out and continued drinking in a nearby house.

"He made no attempt to obtain assistance or to otherwise help Mr Harbinson."

The judge acknowledged those who become informers face torture and execution if caught.

He said Haggarty's was not a Road to Damascus conversion, rather one motivated by self-interest, but said he had given "substantial" assistance to prosecutors.

Mr Fox's son Kieran said: "You hear 35 years for this murder and 20 for this, you are thinking there is a possibility this guy could do some time.

"If you break it on down, he is a free man, he walks free, unreal."

Mr Fox said he felt let down.

"What is justice in this country? It is just designed to look after the criminal," he said.

"How can a man convicted of that many crimes (202) be set free? The man is a serial killer, he was a paid state informer, he was allowed to kill at will, police knew he was killing at will and let it continue."

He added: "You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

"All the families here today did not ask to be here, we were dragged into this through no fault of their own. The police could have prevented us being here today but did not, they were prepared to look after a criminal, a terrorist, back him.

"It just seems life in this jurisdiction here, you are dispensable, it doesn't matter, get on with it."

Haggarty received the primary or longest sentence for the murder of Sean McParland.

The judge said he was a "willing and full participant" in the murder in February 1994.

At Belfast Crown Court he read part of the witness statement from the victim's grandson, Michael, who was aged nine at the time and described the scene as masked gunmen burst into the house.

The judge said: "He could see his granddad in the living room, who had started to bend down and was flapping his arms.

"He was unable to speak because of a recent operation for throat cancer."

Michael fled, then heard a shot and returned to see his granddad lying unconscious in the living room.

Parole Commissioners will consider whether to release Haggarty early as part of a peace process deal.

Prosecutors have said Haggarty's evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against 11 other suspected UVF members and two former police intelligence officers, allegedly his then handlers.

As well as the five murders, Haggarty, who is in protective custody, admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; 23 counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.

He was interviewed more than 1,000 times by detectives in one of the biggest and most complex cases undertaken in Northern Ireland.

The catalogue of offences stretch over a 16-year period from 1991 to 2007 and include the loyalist murders of John Harbinson, Sean McParland, Gary Convie, Eamon Fox and Sean McDermott.

Haggarty, the former boss of the UVF's notorious north Belfast Mount Vernon unit, provided evidence against others in relation to the murders of Mr Convie, Mr Fox, Mr McParland and Mr Harbinson.

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