MLA welcomes appeal of UVF supergrass Haggarty's 'get-out-of-jail-free card' murder sentencing
An SDLP MLA has welcomed a decision to allow the Public Prosecution Service to appeal UVF killer Gary Haggarty's six-and-a-half year sentence, saying he felt it was a "get-out-of-jail-free card".
Former north Belfast UVF chief Haggarty (46) admitted more than 500 offences, including five murders. He was offered a significantly-reduced prison term in return for giving evidence against other terrorist suspects.
One individual is to be prosecuted over two murders using his evidence. Thirteen others implicated by his testimony in over 1,000 police interviews will not be prosecuted due to doubts around Haggarty's reliability as a witness.
Given time spent on remand, Haggarty, who was a paid police informer for 11 years, was eligible to go before the Life Sentence Parole Commissioners and it was reported at the time of his sentencing at the end of January he could be free within weeks and placed into a witness protection scheme with a new identity.
Haggarty's lawyers had attempted to prevent an appeal against his sentence from going ahead, claiming the Public Prosecution Service had missed the deadline to lodge the challenge. However, three Court of Appeal judges ruled on Friday that the appeal will go ahead.
Prosecutors are challenging the sentence on the basis that it was unduly lenient.
SDLP assembly member John Dallat welcomed the decision to allow the appeal to go ahead.
He said: “I sat in Court 13 with the relatives of those who had family members murdered by the notorious UVF death gang headed by Haggarty. Their frustration and pain following the sentencing is indescribably.
“After committing the most heinous crimes, it felt like he was given a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’.
“After speaking with the families of those murdered by Haggarty and his criminal gang, I wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions urging his office to appeal the decision on the grounds that it was horrendously lenient and caused immense hurt to those who lost the most.
“I am pleased that the Court of Appeal will now move to hear the case in spite of a vexatious attempt to have it thrown out.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital