Belfast Telegraph

Police defend 'supergrass' trial

Prosecutors and police have defended pursuing terrorist charges against 12 men who walked free after a trial that could cost taxpayers up to £10 million.

Supporters of the acquitted have demanded an end to so-called "supergrass" testimony after the judge damned two key prosecution witnesses who turned state's evidence for the 71-day trial at Belfast Crown Court - one of the longest and most expensive in Northern Ireland legal history.

Leading north Belfast loyalist Mark Haddock and eight others were found not guilty of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) murder of Ulster Defence Association (UDA) chief Tommy English 12 years ago, while three co-accused were acquitted of lesser charges.

Delivering his verdict in the non-jury trial, Mr Justice John Gillen offered a withering assessment of the testimony given by the prosecution's two key witnesses - brothers and self-confessed Ulster Volunteer Force members Robert and Ian Stewart.

Justice Gillen said their evidence - given in a total of 56 days in the witness box - was flawed, unreliable and "infected with lies".

One defendant, Neil Pollock, 36, from Fortwilliam Gardens in Belfast, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice and possessing an item intended for terrorism - namely a sledgehammer - but crucially those convictions did not rely on the word of the Stewart brothers.

With 14 senior barristers and 13 junior counsel representing the legal aid-supported defendants during the five month trial, along with the bill for the Crown's one senior counsel and two juniors, and police and judicial costs, well placed legal sources estimated that the final bill could reach £10 million.

The Stewart brothers, habitual alcohol and drug abusers from north Belfast, agreed to give evidence against the defendants in return for significantly reduced jail terms for admitting their own UVF crimes.

While the judge insisted his findings were not a criticism of the policy of using so-called "accomplice evidence" in court, the verdicts have prompted concerns over whether the charges should have been pursued.

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds said "serious questions" needed to be asked of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). But the PPS defended the decision to prosecute, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland also insisted it would continue to make use of "accomplice evidence".

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