As Northern Ireland’s biggest trial for decades finally gets underway next week, all eyes will be on the reaction of the UVF.
The fear is that ripples from the courtroom proceedings could further unsettle the already increasingly unstable paramilitary group.
The PSNI said it does not comment on security issues, but a ring of steel is expected to surround Belfast’s Laganside Courts, where police agent Mark Haddock and 13 other alleged UVF members face trial for the murder of rival loyalist chief Tommy English.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned that local elected representatives have warned police they fear traffic disruption and possible bomb scares as part of protest action.
Senior loyalist figure William ‘Plum’ Smith, of the Ex-Prisoners Interpretive Centre (EPIC) who chaired the 1995 loyalist ceasefire announcement, said: “I believe that the continuance of these discredited show trials is a retrograde step for the judicial system and increases the probability of miscarriages of justice.
“No matter what way you massage the trial, it is a throwback to the 80s”, said Mr Smith, who was jailed in 1972 for attempted murder and involved with the UVF and Red Hand Commando.
His criticism came as it emerged yesterday that former top loyalist Haddock (42) had been ordered back into custody after being being on bail at a secret location outside Northern Ireland.
Much of the evidence against Haddock and others in the so-called ‘supergrass' case has been supplied by brothers David and Robert Stewart, former UVF men now serving prison sentences for aiding and abetting in the killing of English.
The UDA leader was gunned down at his home on the Ballyduff Estate, Newtownabbey, in October 2000, during a loyalist feud which claimed seven lives.
The Stewart brothers agreed to turn state evidence and implicate other suspects in return for reduced jail sentences and Haddock was forced to live at an address outside Northern Ireland because of concerns over his security.
In 2006 he survived an assassination attempt when he was shot six times.
Mr Justice McCloskey set a deadline of 5pm yesterday for him to surrender to police and also granted a prosecution request for reporting of the development to be delayed until after that point.
A Crown lawyer confirmed the application was to protect Haddock's safety and ensure no threat to public order.
He told the court: “There have been previous attacks on him and attempts to kill him.
“The risk for Haddock and, therefore, for the public, would be during the period his movements might be known and the point of surrender is known.
“Clearly to anyone who has knowledge of how one surrenders to bail, the point of surrender will be easily ascertained.
“The points of entry to Northern Ireland are not difficult to narrow down.”
Allowing the application, Mr Justice McCloskey said he was satisfied Haddock's right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights “would be imperilled if these proceedings were to be reported before a certain time”.
In all, Haddock and the others deny a total of 41 charges arising out of the alleged activities of the UVF in the north Belfast and Newtownabbey areas.
There have been estimates that the trial could stretch over 11 weeks.