Anger as 13 suspects implicated by loyalist supergrass avoid prosecution
Victims of a loyalist murder gang have expressed anger that 13 suspects implicated by its commander as part of a supergrass witness deal will not be prosecuted.
Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service said there was insufficient corroborating evidence to support the allegations levelled by Ulster Volunteer Force boss Gary Haggarty, a multiple murderer, to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.
Prosecutors are still considering the cases of three remaining suspects named by long-time police informer Haggarty, related to three murders, with decisions expected by the end of the month.
But charges will not now be brought against against 11 men Haggarty claimed were part of his notorious north Belfast Mount Vernon terror gang and two former Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch officers he alleged were complicit in serious criminality in their role as his handler.
Earlier this year, Haggarty, 45, pleaded guilty to 202 terror offences, including five murders, in a contentious state deal that will see him receive a significantly reduced prison term in exchange for his evidence when he is sentenced later this year.
He could theoretically walk free, to enter a new life with a fresh identity, given he has already served three years in custody on remand - the equivalent of a six-year sentence.
Jackie Larkin, whose brother Gerard Brady was murdered by the Mount Vernon UVF in 1994, said she was "disgusted".
"While there is breath in my body I will never give up," she said.
"I will keep on fighting until I get the truth and we can put him to rest."
She said the Troubles were not over for the victims.
"For us it is not in the past. For us these murders happened 20 years ago but every day it is our future," she said.
Ciaran Fox, whose father Eamon was killed by the gang, voiced concern that no action was being taken against Haggarty's Special Branch handlers.
"I am totally disappointed in what we have heard," he said.
"What we were after has now been taken away from us. It is hard to stomach."
The PPS decision represents another major blow for the already controversial legislation that permits supergrass deals.
Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory said assessing the credibility of an assisting offender was a "complex task".
"I fully appreciate that this news will be deeply disappointing for the victims in these cases," he said.
"I understand that this will not just be because of the disappointment or anger they may feel about the decisions, but also because today is another day where they will be revisiting the pain of events from many years ago."
As well as the five murders, Haggarty, who is currently in protective custody, admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; 23 counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.
Haggarty was interviewed more than 1,000 times by detectives in one of the biggest and most complex cases undertaken in Northern Ireland.
The catalogue of offences stretch over a 16-year period from 1991 to 2007 and include the loyalist murders of Mr Fox, John Harbinson, Sean McParland, Gary Convie and Sean McDermott.
Haggarty provided evidence against other alleged loyalists in relation to the murders of Mr Convie, Mr Fox, Mr McParland and Mr Harbinson.
There will be no prosecutions over the murder of Mr McParland.
Evidence provided by Haggarty linking one suspect to the murders of Mr Convie and Mr Fox and linking two suspects to Mr Harbinson's murder are still under consideration by the PPS.
It is understood some form of corroborating evidence is available in those cases.
Haggarty's own lengthy charge sheet also includes aiding and abetting murder, kidnap, possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives as well as hijacking, false imprisonment, arson, intimidation and conspiracy to riot.
The PPS decision will reignite the debate about the use of the assisting offenders legislation in Northern Ireland.
The policy has long been dogged by controversy.
Five years ago, a high-profile trial of 13 alleged loyalists ended with the acquittal of 12 of the defendants after the trial judge criticised the evidence provided by two supergrasses as being "infected with lies".
Ian and Robert Stewart served only three years of life sentences for the murder of a loyalist rival after each struck an assisting offenders deal.
Contention also surrounded Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) supergrass Neil Hyde.
Hyde was given a substantially reduced term of three years - when facing a potential 18-year sentence for almost 50 LVF offences - after agreeing to become an assisting offender to the authorities investigating the 2001 murder of Sunday World reporter Martin O'Hagan in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
But the PPS mounted no prosecutions on the back of his evidence and then later tried to refer his sentence back to court after claiming Hyde reneged on his agreement to provide a truthful account of events.
The PPS ultimately dropped its efforts to have Hyde's sentence reviewed.