Belfast Telegraph

'Token gesture' murder trial will solve nothing, says slain worker's son

By Victoria Leonard

The decision to use evidence from a loyalist paramilitary turned supergrass to prosecute a suspect in the murders of two Catholic workmen has been slammed as a "token gesture" by the son of a victim.

Yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory confirmed that a prosecution will be taken against a suspect named by former UVF commander Gary Haggarty (45) over the murders of Gary Convie (24) and Eamon Fox (44) on May 17, 1994.

The men were killed while eating their lunch in a vehicle at a building site on Belfast's North Queen Street.

The individual set to be prosecuted was one of three remaining suspects named by assisting offender Haggarty.

However, Eamon Fox's son Kieran said he was experiencing "mixed emotions" over the decision to prosecute.

"There were originally 16 suspects and now it is down to one person going to court," he said.

"We have been promised a lot and nothing happened, so we feel that this is a token gesture to prosecute someone.

"We have known that the DNA and eyewitness evidence existed for years, but we don't know why it hasn't been used before now.

"I don't think this will give our family full closure or peace of mind. It may give us part-closure, but we believe that there are a lot of people out there walking about and sleeping in their own beds who may know what happened.

"I want to know why my father was murdered. I have spent most of my life seeking justice.

"I think that ultimately a public inquiry will be needed. It will be the only way to get answers, as I don't believe we will get them through the legal system."

Last month, Mr McGrory decided not to prosecute 13 other individuals named by Haggarty, including two former police intelligence officers.

The PPS said at that time that there was insufficient corroborating evidence to support the allegations levelled by the former north Belfast UVF boss to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.

Commenting on the decision to prosecute a suspect over the Fox and Convie murders - which marks the first time Haggarty's evidence has been used against another person - Mr McGrory said he was "satisfied there was independent evidence which is capable of supporting his identification of the suspect" including "both eyewitness and forensic evidence".

He added: "In these circumstances, I have concluded that there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and that the test for prosecution is met.

"I confirm that we intend to use assisting offender Gary Haggarty as a witness in this prosecution."

The suspect is understood to have been previously charged with the murders of Mr Fox and Mr Convie, but his case was not proceeded with, pending resolution of Haggarty's prosecution.

He is expected to be charged in connection with the murders early in the new year.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, if convicted he will be eligible for release from prison within two years.

The suspect will also be charged with the attempted murder of a 'Witness A', possession of a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life and membership of the UVF.

Yesterday, Mr McGrory also revealed that no action would be taken against two suspects named by Haggarty in relation to the murder of Alan John Harbinson in the Mount Vernon estate in 1997.

He said: "I have concluded that the test is not met in respect of either of the two reported suspects, on the basis that the available evidence does not provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.

"I have spoken before about the complex task of assessing the credibility of an assisting offender.

"In relation to Gary Haggarty, given all the relevant circumstances - including his admitted criminality - I consider that his evidence alone is insufficient to prove an allegation beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The evidence currently available to us does not provide the necessary support for Haggarty's identification of the reported suspects as those involved in the abduction and murder of Mr Harbinson."

Kieran Fox said that he felt sorry for the Harbinson family.

"I have a lot of sympathy for the Harbinson family - at least one of the suspects in my father's murder will be brought to trial, but they have no closure or justice, nothing," he added.

In the summer, Haggarty pleaded guilty to 202 terror offences, including five murders, in a deal that will see him receive a significantly reduced prison term in exchange for his evidence under controversial assisting offender legislation.

He could theoretically in the future walk free to start a new life with a fresh identity, given that he has already served three years in custody on remand - the equivalent of a six-year sentence.

Haggarty's case is due to return to court today, when legal submissions will be made.

Belfast Telegraph

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