Northern Ireland news

Gary Haggarty: Successful appeal against supergrass's sentence would not mean return to jail

Gary Haggarty has been freed from jail and put into witness protection

ANY successful appeal against the sentence imposed on a former loyalist paramilitary chief who admitted five murders will not lead to his re-arrest and return to jail, it has been confirmed.

With no immediate urgency surrounding the challenge to the six-and-a-half-year prison term imposed on 'supergrass' Gary Haggarty, senior judges have now listed the case for hearing in September.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is appealing on the basis that the UVF boss turned state informer received an unduly lenient sentence.

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Haggarty (46) has already been freed from jail and put into witness protection.

He has confessed to more than 500 offences committed while part of a UVF unit based in north Belfast.

His catalogue of paramilitary crime extended over 16 years, from 1991 to 2007, and included the following murders:

  • Sean McParland (55), a father-of-four from south Belfast gunned down while babysitting his grandchildren at a house in Skegoniel Avenue, Belfast in February 1994.
  • Catholic workmen Eamon Fox (44) and Gary Convie (24), shot dead close to a building site on Belfast's North Queen Street in May 1994.
  • Sean McDermott, a 37-year-old Catholic shot found shot dead in his car near Antrim in August 1994.
  • John Harbinson, murdered after being handcuffed and beaten by a UVF gang on the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast in May 1997.

Haggarty also admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; multiple counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.

He pleaded guilty as part of a controversial state deal that offered a reduced sentence in return for providing evidence on other terror suspects.

In January his prison term was slashed from 35 years to six-and-a-half years due to the information supplied on scores of loyalist killings and attempted murders.

But only one man is to be prosecuted over a murder using his evidence.

Despite Haggarty being released last month due to time served on remand, the PPS is seeking to have his sentence reviewed and increased.

Defence lawyers claim the legal move is academic, as Haggarty will never serve any longer behind bars because the murders were committed before the Good Friday Agreement.

At a review in the Court of Appeal yesterday, judges sought confirmation on that point.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan pointed to the urgency in other cases where someone released from jail faces being re-arrested and imprisoned again if a prosecution appeal against sentence succeeds.

"Am I right in thinking this is not such a case?" he asked senior Crown counsel.

Ciaran Murphy QC replied: "It's not such a case, correct."

A hearing of the challenge to the sentence handed down was previously postponed due to an "administrative matter".

Although the PPS has now dealt with the undisclosed issue, Mr Murphy told the court some input from the police remains incomplete.

Adjourning the appeal until after the summer recess, Sir Declan said: "Realistically, it looks as though a September hearing is the right approach."

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