Supergrass Trial: Two brothers, a bloody feud and an unprecedented trial in court 12
Next week’s supergrass trial will be the biggest in Northern Ireland for years. Adrian Rutherford looks at some of the key issues
Q What is the background to the supergrass case?
A Police agent Mark Haddock and 13 members of the North Belfast UVF gang, he once led, are appearing in court charged in connection with the murder of Tommy English in October 2000.
English, a high-ranking UDA member, was gunned down at his Newtownabbey home during a loyalist paramilitary feud which claimed seven lives.
The case against the murder suspects depends heavily on so-called supergrass evidence to be given by two UVF brothers, David and Robert Stewart. It will be the biggest trial in Northern Ireland since the supergrass cases of the 1980s.
Q Who was Tommy English?
A English was a leading member of the UDA's political wing, the Ulster Democratic party (UDP).
He was shot dead at his Newtownabbey home on October 31, 2000 at the height of a bloody loyalist feud.
The 39-year-old died in hospital after being shot three times by four masked UVF gunmen as he lay on his sofa. The killing was carried out in revenge for the murder hours earlier of Bertie Rice, who had worked for the UVF's political wing, the Progressive Unionist Party.
Q Who is Mark Haddock?
A Haddock was commander of the UVF’s North Belfast unit before his arrest in 2005, and has been linked to over 20 murders. He was born and raised in Mount Vernon, where the UVF wielded power for years, and by 1990 had joined the terror group.
He was lucky to survive an assassination attempt by his former cohorts while on bail in 2006.
The previous year, Irish TD Pat Rabbitte had used Dail parliamentary privilege to name Haddock as a police agent and serial killer whose victims included Sharon McKenna, Gary Convie, Eamon Fox, John Harbinson and Raymond McCord jnr. In 2007, a Police Ombudsman’s report concluded that Haddock was paid almost £80,000 as a police informer between 1991 and 2003.
Q Who else will stand trial?
A Aside from Haddock, 13 others are also due to take the stand in connection with English’s murder. They include Ronald Bowe and Darren Moore, who were charged over the gun attack on Haddock in 2006. Both were charged with attempted murder, but the charges were dropped after Haddock refused to give evidence.
Another six are charged with Haddock’s murder: David Miller, John Bond, Jason Loughlin, Samuel Higgins, Philip Laffin and Alexander Thomas Wood. Five others are not accused of murder, but face related charges: William Hinds, David McCrum, Mark Thompson, David Smart, Neil Pollock.
Apart from English’s murder, the 13 face a raft of charges relating to paramilitary activity including intimidation and weapons offences.
Q Who is turning Queen’s Evidence?
A Self-confessed UVF members David and Robert Stewart, both from Newtownabbey, walked into Antrim Police Station in 2008 and admitted their role in the murder of English and other terror-related activities.
After being charged with murder, they agreed to give evidence against various other UVF members. The Stewarts appeared in court in August 2008 charged with English’s murder. David Stewart, a social worker, was also accused of being a UVF member since 1996, while Robert Stewart was accused of being a UVF member since 1994. Five months later, Haddock was charged with the English murder.
Q What other supergrass trials have taken place?
A Next week’s trial will have echoes of the huge supergrass cases of the 1980s. At the height of the trials, between 1982 and 1985, 25 men turned Queen’s Evidence, putting hundreds of suspects behind bars for dozens of murders. In one case supergrass Christopher Black’s testimony saw 22 IRA members jailed for more than 4,000 years, albeit 18 later had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Another, Raymond Gilmour, testified against 100 republicans in Londonderry, but the case collapsed after his evidence was dismissed as “unworthy of belief”. The supergrass system collapsed in 1985 and many convictions were overturned.
Q How long is the trial expected to last?
A The Diplock trial takes place in court 12 at Laganside Crown Court and is expected to last 11 weeks. It will be presided over by Mr Justice Gillen, who will hear the case without a jury.
Because of the sheer scale of the trial, a second courtroom has been prepared in another building.
While the main proceedings will take place in court 12, they will be streamed live via a video-link system into the Headline Building in Victoria Street.
It is believed to be the first time a video-link facility to a second courtroom has been used in a trial here.
Prosecution witnesses, along with English’s friends and relatives, are expected to be held in the extended courtroom. It is anticipated the trial will run to over £1m legal costs.
Q What security arrangements have been put in place?
A The trial will take place against a massive security operation, with a heavy police presence expected in and around Laganside courthouse.
Those attending the trial will be warned they must abide by a strict protocol or risk being removed from the courtroom. In the 1980s, when Christopher Black turned Queen’s Evidence, the trial judge wore a bullet proof vest and was flanked by armed RUC officers throughout the 120-day case. When he travelled to London to consider his verdict, he was given 24-hour protection by the SAS.
Q What happens afterwards?
A It is thought that if prosecutions are secured, it could open the floodgates for other supergrass trials in the future. Earlier this year, it emerged former top loyalist Gary Haggarty would be debriefed in connection with the murder of William Harbinson in May 1997.
Haggarty and Haddock have both been charged with Harbinson’s killing. The 39-year-old taxi driver was handcuffed and beaten to death in the Mount Vernon estate.
Meanwhile, the Stewart brothers have been held in isolation at Maghaberry prison for their own safety. After the trial, they will be taken out of Northern Ireland and handed new identities.