Analysis: Collusion runs through the Haggarty case from start to finish

Gary Haggarty. Picture by Pacemaker

It is quite an extraordinary set of circumstances in which a man who has pleaded guilty to over 200 terrorist related offences, including five counts of murder, is expected to serve little - if any - further time in prison.

Given the seriousness of the offences Gary Haggarty has confessed to over a 16-year period as a member of the murderous Mount Vernon UVF, you might expect him to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

However, he has already served around three years on remand, the Northern Ireland equivalent of a six year jail term, and is also entitled to the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement, that means serving just two years for crimes committed before 1998.

As a state witness, accepted under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA), he will also receive a significantly reduced jail term for post 1998 offences and be gifted a new identity in return for agreeing to give evidence against former associates.

So called 'supergrass' trials have always been controversial in Northern Ireland and in the past almost always ended in either failure to convict or convictions have been quashed on appeal.

Haggarty has named 14 former UVF associates in his 10,000 pages of testimony, more significantly he has named two former special branch handlers as being complicit in some of his crimes, not merely in a passive role but by directing him to take part in certain activities.

That the state will put those men in the dock, knowing they could in turn point the finger at their superior officers and they at even higher ranking officers, seems unlikely given previous high profile collusion cases have not resulted in a single prosecution of any former RUC personnel.

Collusion runs through the Haggarty case, a paid police informer at the time he was committing hundreds of serious terrorist offences, a protected witness now he has confessed to his crimes.

The police and prosecution service will now have to determine if he will make a reliable enough witness to bring others to court.

The general public might ask why this assessment wasn't made before entering into an agreement with one of Northern Ireland's most notorious terrorists.

For his victims, and the victims of those he has named, this has been a torturous and lengthy process, one that has built their hopes up only to have them dashed time and time again.

The British government have indicated they favour a 'line in the sand' approach to legacy with a statute of limitations on historic investigations to protect former soldiers from prosecution, which will in turn benefit former paramilitaries.

All those factors combined could collide to negate the need for Haggarty ever acting as a prosecution witness, that would make this one lengthy, expensive and morally questionable chapter in Northern Ireland's bloody history.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: