Ex-informant's murder charge is dropped by PPS
A murder charge brought against a high-profile loyalist and former police informant has been withdrawn.
Mark Haddock had been formally accused of killing John Harbinson in Belfast in 1997.
Now, over three years after the charge was brought, a judge was told of the new development.
It was stressed that the move, which is linked to the time the case has taken, was being made on a without-prejudice basis.
Police will still be able to continue their inquiries and submit a file to the Public Prosecution Service for consideration.
A PPS lawyer told Belfast Magistrate’s Court: “My application is to withdraw the charge.
“The case is to proceed by way of a report to the PPS.”
He added: “It looks like the investigation is still going to take considerably more time.”
Haddock (43), formerly from the Mount Vernon area of north Belfast, did not appear in court for the brief hearing.
Reporting restrictions prevent the publication of any details about his current whereabouts.
He was charged with murdering Mr Harbinson following a reinvestigation by the Historical Enquiries Team, a specialist police unit set up to probe killings from the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The victim, a 39-year-old Protestant, was found dead in May 1997.
Harbinson had been handcuffed and beaten by an Ulster Volunteer Force gang on the Mount Vernon estate.
Earlier this year, Haddock was one of nine men acquitted of the separate murder of Ulster Defence Association leader Tommy English in October 2000.
That not-guilty verdict was returned following a so-called supergrass trial involving the evidence of loyalist brothers Robert and Ian Stewart.
Haddock has himself survived an assassination attempt carried out by former associates.
He was shot a number of times and badly injured in the gun attack in Newtownabbey, just outside Belfast, in May 2006.