McCord's UVF killers are unlikely to face justice
The father of a man murdered by the Mount Vernon UVF is deflated but not surprised at yesterday's verdicts. Alan Murray reports
Disgusted was the word that rolled from Raymond McCord's lips yesterday after he had paid a visit to his son's grave.
Dismayed by Mark Haddock's acquittal in the UVF 'supergrass' trial, nevertheless, with typical resolve, he vowed to fight on.
Raymond McCord's quest for justice has endured years of heartache and setbacks since the hour he discovered his 22-year-old son, Raymond Jnr, had been found battered to death in a desolate Co Antrim quarry.
His struggle to bring his son's UVF killers to justice has taken him to Capitol Hill in Washington and the Commons in London and precipitated an unprecedented investigation by the then Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, into the role of police agents within the UVF in north Belfast.
McCord's battle with loyalist paramilitaries in north Belfast began even before his son was murdered.
In 1992, he was battered senseless by a six-man UDA gang which he had confronted on the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey.
He returned to Northern Ireland in 1995 from America, vowing to tackle the organisation's leader in the area for the continual harassment of his wife and children.
Little did he know that, two years later, he would be burying one of those children.
In his relentless pursuit of justice he has taken on the might of the UVF and, he thinks, the Establishment in his quest to bring Raymond Jnr's killers to justice.
O'Loan's report into the apparent latitude afforded to the UVF's Mount Vernon crew made sensational reading as it revealed not just that Mark Haddock was a police agent but that others around him were also working for the police as agents cleared to participate in crime.
The acquittal yesterday of 12 of the 13 men who stood trial in connection with more than 30 serious terrorist crimes, including Haddock, was not unexpected by the indefatigable campaigner for justice.
When the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) passed its investigation over to the PSNI, McCord dared to hope that those who organised his son's murder - and those who carried out the orders - would be successfully prosecuted for their involvement in a plethora of UVF crimes, including the murder of UDA man Tommy English.
Mr Justice Gillen declared that he could not convict on the word alone of the Stewart brothers, on the trustworthiness of whose testimony the trial hinged.
The relatives of Sappers Azimkar and Quinsey were assured by the PSNI that the investigation into the Massereene attack would continue.
For McCord, there is unlikely to be a similar heartening assurance.
For 14 years, he has trodden a lonely path, briefing journalists more in hope than expectation that his son's killers would be nailed.
If truth were told, he never did express belief in the system, expecting little would change in his uphill struggle to bring police agents to justice.
He knows that the prospects of some of the UVF's Mount Vernon gang now being tried for the murder of his son more than 14 years ago is, at best, slim.
And, as he struggles to cope with that reality daily, he faces the possibility that those he has faced down for a decade and more remain at large to taunt him and perhaps attack him, as the PSNI has repeatedly warned they intend to do.
McCord remains in the category of many who fought for justice, hoped for justice, but in the end felt they had been let down.
There is the maxim that the first 24 hours in a police investigation are the most crucial.
When McCord's son was murdered in 1997, there were those within the RUC who had the means - through Mark Haddock - of establishing who carried out the brutal slaying and gathering the evidence against them.
That didn't happen. And the question forever posed by Raymond McCord will be: "Why?"