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Five murder charges against alleged UVF supergrass - but if found guilty he could get just three years

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Accused: Gary Haggarty, who faced a total of 212 charges when he appeared at Laganside Court yesterday

Accused: Gary Haggarty, who faced a total of 212 charges when he appeared at Laganside Court yesterday

Accused: Gary Haggarty, who faced a total of 212 charges when he appeared at Laganside Court yesterday

An alleged former UVF commander turned supergrass facing 212 charges - including five murders - is unlikely to ever face jail if convicted.

Gary Haggarty is also accused of dozens of conspiracy to murder and directing terrorism offences.

Around 10,000 pages of evidence have been compiled in a huge case against Haggarty, a court has been told.

A preliminary enquiry involving the 42-year-old was due to take place in Belfast yesterday. But proceedings were put on hold after defence lawyers sought a two-month adjournment to study the huge volume of material.

It is understood that despite the huge list of charges against Haggarty, an agreement to provide evidence on leading figures in the UVF could see him sentenced to as little as three years in prison.

As he has already served that time on remand from his arrest in 2009 until 2012, it is highly unlikely Haggarty would be sent back to prison. Haggarty, whose address was given as c/o the Police Service of Northern Ireland, is believed to be living at a secret location in England. He did not appear for the brief hearing before Belfast Magistrates Court.

The alleged offences span a 16-year period between 1991 and 2007. The 212 charges include:

  • Five murders, 31 conspiracy to murder and six attempted murders.
  • Four kidnappings, six false imprisonment and five hijacking.
  • Twelve possessing explosives with intent to endanger life and 47 counts of having a firearm with intent.
  • Eighteen charges of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
  • Three counts of arson, conspiracy to defraud and concealing the proceeds of criminal conduct.
  • Two charges each of directing terrorism and belonging to a proscribed organisation.
  • Seven counts of possessing money or property for the purposes of terrorism.

District Judge Amanda Henderson was told the full papers have just been received by Haggarty's legal representatives.

With the prosecution consenting to the application to adjourn the case was listed for a review in December.

Further details emerged as the cases of two Belfast men allegedly charged with murdering two Catholic workmen were then mentioned.

James Smyth (48) and Mark Campbell (43) are jointly accused of killing Gary Convie and Eamon Fox in May 1994. The victims were gunned down as they sat eating lunch in a car at a building site on Belfast's North Queen Street.

Smyth, from Forthriver Link, and Campbell, of Canning Place, are further charged with attempting to murder a third man, Donal Laverty, in the same attack.

They were charged by detectives investigating a campaign of UVF-linked murder and serious crime. At a previous court hearing defence lawyers have claimed the allegations are based on evidence from Haggarty.

The court heard the case was complex and ran to some 10,000 pages.

But defence solicitor John Greer opposed prosecution attempts to have Smyth and Campbell's cases put back for three months.

Mr Greer argued that it would be an unreasonable and unacceptable delay.

Judge Henderson listed Smyth and Campbell's case for a further mention on Friday.

Mr Gadget, the man whose evidence could topple UVF's senior figures

Nicknamed Mr Gadget, loyalists fear his information could take down some of the UVF's most senior and feared figures.

Gary Haggarty is the man whose evidence could topple the leadership of the terror group.

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the loyalist ceasefire – but the UVF has been blamed for at least 30 killings since then.

Haggarty was reportedly the group's southeast Antrim commander. He agreed to turn supergrass while on remand in 2010, charged with the 1997 murder of John Harbinson in the Mount Vernon estate.

Mr Harbinson was chained to railings and beaten to death with iron bars in the UVF stronghold. No one has been convicted of his murder.

Under the Serious and Organised Crime Act 2005, offenders can be offered a deal involving a reduced sentence for their crimes in return for a full confession and an agreement to provide evidence against others.

During police interviews, Haggarty gave 30,000 pages of information to detectives.

It is understood he named the entire leadership of the UVF and every member of the group he worked with since the early 1990s. He is also believed to have identified police officers he says turned a blind eye to UVF activities.

In return for giving evidence against his former peers, Haggarty is expected to be sentenced – if convicted – to as little as three years, despite the huge number of crimes he is linked to.

Having spent more than that time on remand since his 2009 arrest, Haggarty would be unlikely to ever return to prison.

Once legal proceedings involving Haggarty are dealt with, police are set to move on those he has named as leaders within the loyalist terror group.

However, confidence in the supergrass system was shattered in 2012 when a case costing more than £12m collapsed.

A judge branded brothers Robert and David Stewart liars and there were calls for them to be re-sentenced for a catalogue of UVF crimes.

The Stewarts walked into Antrim police station in 2008 and admitted their involvement in the murder of UDA leader Tommy English in 2000.

They entered into an assisting offenders deal which led to their sentences being reduced by 19 years. In return, the pair agreed to give evidence against Mount Vernon and Shore Road UVF members.

The dismissal of their evidence saw 12 of 13 suspects acquitted of all charges, including former UVF commander Mark Haddock.

The trial had lasted for 72 days. Almost £6m was spent on the case by police and around the same figure on Legal Aid for the defendants.

Thirteen barristers and 17 people working as solicitor advocates or junior counsel were also employed.

Haddock and the 12 others had faced a total of 97 charges including murder, kidnap, grievous bodily harm, and membership of the UVF.

The Stewart brothers were given three-year jail terms instead of 22 years. They were released in 2011 and are currently living new lives in the police witness protection scheme.

Despite the outcry over the vast sums spent on the failed trial, the PSNI defended the use of the supergrass system.

Then assistant chief constable, Drew Harris, said in 2012 the use of supergrasses "has been provided for in common law for centuries, it is now codified in legislation and it remains a viable tactic that we will continue to use in the investigation of serious crime".

In the wake of the case, loyalist sources said Haggarty's revelations were what the UVF feared most.

"His memory is as sharp as a razor," a source told this newspaper at the time.

"He's a superstar witness compared to the Stewart brothers." They fear Haggarty, and his gadgets, may have recorded conversations at meetings of the loyalist leadership, not just the UVF, but across the so-called combined loyalist command.

Another investigation into the UVF's activities, focused on its command in the Shankill Road, is being finalised out by the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire.

Expected early next year, it will reveal its findings on claims a number of senior UVF figures have been paid informants for years.

It has been alleged that senior figures within the organisation have been immune from prosecution because they were police informers.

Seven years ago, then Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan published a report called Operation Ballast.

It said Special Branch officers had protected informers who were part of a gang based in the Mount Vernon area of north Belfast which was linked to 16 murders.

The report was hugely damaging for the police and was strongly criticised by a number of former senior Special Branch officers.

Belfast Telegraph