Supergrass trial: UVF leader 'ordered paramilitary rival's murder'
Loyalist leader Mark Haddock ordered the murder of a paramilitary rival and told the gunmen: "I want him done, shot dead", a court has heard.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) chief singled out Ulster Defence Association (UDA) boss Tommy English as the target and conducted a scouting operation at his house ahead of the shooting in north Belfast almost 11 years ago, the city's Crown court was told.
The evidence implicating the 42-year-old former police informant was provided by two brothers who have already confessed to involvement in the October 2000 murder.
Gordon Kerr, for the Crown, outlined the accounts of David and Robert Stewart, UVF members from Newtownabbey, as he opened the prosecution case against Haddock and 13 co-accused.
The 14 face a litany of paramilitary charges, including the murder of English, in one of the largest trials in Northern Ireland in decades.
Mr Kerr told judge Mr Justice John Gillen that the brothers claim Haddock and other senior UVF members in north Belfast planned the killing in retaliation for the shooting of a colleague at the height of a bloody feud between the UDA and UVF.
He said the trial will hear evidence from Robert Stewart that Haddock and a number of his co-accused had gathered in a flat close to where English lived on the morning of the murder to discuss the plot.
"The name Tommy English was mentioned early on by Haddock and the fact English lived near by," Mr Kerr said, referring to Robert Stewart's claims.
English, 40, was gunned down in his house in front of his wife and three young children just after 6pm on Halloween night.
Robert Stewart, Mr Kerr told the court, said Haddock left the flat telling the four men who had volunteered to go to his house to avoid shooting the children.
"Haddock left the flat about 4pm," said Mr Kerr.
"As he left he told them to try to miss the kids and wished them good luck."
The lawyer said, according to Stewart, in the hours before the attack one of the gunmen claimed: "He said he wanted it to be all over so he could go home and have a kebab."
Mr Kerr outlined a similar account of events from David Stewart.
The lawyer said Stewart claims Haddock made clear that he wanted English dead.
He said Haddock allegedly declared: "I want him done, shot dead."
During the first morning of the non-jury trial, Mr Kerr also relayed English's wife Doreen's account of the shooting.
She said a gang of masked men had forced their way in the back door of their home, assaulted her and then pushed through into the house to shoot her husband.
"At one point she heard one of the men shouting 'come on back and finish the b******," said the lawyer.
Haddock sat apart from 13 co-accused as the trial commenced.
Eight prison officers surrounded him as he was led from the cells into court 12 and seated away from the dock containing the other defendants.
Haddock, dressed in a blue shirt and sporting a goatee beard, gave the thumbs-up sign as he sat smiling ahead of the start of proceedings.
He is in protective custody over fears for his safety. Two of Haddock's co-accused sitting yards away in the dock were previously accused of trying to kill him in a failed assassination bid five years ago.
All 14 spoke to confirm their names as the trial began in front of Justice Gillen with the public gallery packed full.
All the defendants deny the charges facing them.
Police staged a major security operation both outside and inside the court amid fears the trial could trigger unrest in loyalist communities, after a summer already blighted by violence in working class Protestant neighbourhoods.
There is simmering anger within loyalism that Haddock and the other defendants will be tried on evidence based largely on the testimony of the Stewart brothers.
The self-confessed UVF members both turned Crown witnesses to gain a lesser sentence.
Supporters of the 14 accused have likened the case to the so-called supergrass trials in the 1980s, which saw both loyalist and republican paramilitaries jailed on the evidence of former colleagues who turned state's evidence.
A token protest of around 10 people held banners outside the venue, though supporters with their faces covered - including one wearing a Halloween mask - entered the court building.
Loyalist spokesman Ken Wilkinson, from the Families Against Supergrass Trials group, said the hearing was a return to the controversial mass trials of the 1980s.
"We have a devolved government in Northern Ireland," he said. "We have a local justice minister, but we have not moved on."
Banners denouncing supergrass trials were also erected in loyalist areas in Belfast last week in a visible sign of the heightened tensions within sections of the community.
Special measures have already been introduced ahead of the trial, with witnesses and members of English's family due to be kept in a secure room in a different building, linked to Court 12 in Laganside courthouse by video.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is also making plans in the event of trouble in potential flashpoints such as east and north Belfast and south-east Antrim.
It is understood the trial could last up to three months.
In January 2007 Haddock's role as a police special branch agent was outlined following the publication of an investigation by former police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan.
She found that police colluded with Haddock's Mount Vernon UVF gang in north Belfast - a group that was behind more than a dozen murders in the area.
Ahead of the trial, Haddock had been on bail at an address outside Northern Ireland due to concerns for his safety.
On his return to the region last week, he agreed to be placed in protective custody back in jail.