Supergrass Haggarty could be freed before appeal against six-year term is heard, court hears
A former loyalist paramilitary chief who admitted five murders could be freed before an appeal against his six-and-a-half-year prison term is heard, his lawyer predicted on Thursday.
The Public Prosecution Service is challenging the sentence handed down to Ulster Volunteer Force boss turned state informer Gary Haggarty on the basis that it was unduly lenient.
A planned hearing at the Court of Appeal in Belfast was adjourned at the last minute due to an "administrative matter".
Senior judges adjourned the case for a week, when they will sit again to review the situation.
But outside court 46-year-old Haggarty's solicitor revealed Sentence Review Commissioners have already met to consider his release and are due to give their preliminary decision within days.
Ciaran Shiels said: "If they order his release without challenge from the Northern Ireland Office it's likely that he would be released before the hearing of the PPS reference."
"In correspondence they have already indicated they do not require the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the reference in order to effect Gary Haggarty's release."
Haggarty, who was part of a UVF unit operating in north Belfast, was jailed earlier this year after confessing to hundreds of terrorist offences.
His catalogue of paramilitary crime extended over 16 years, from 1991 to 2007, and included the following murders:
:: Sean McParland, 55, a father of four from south Belfast gunned down while babysitting his grandchildren at a house in Skegoniel Avenue, Belfast in February 1994.
:: Catholic workmen Eamon Fox, 44, and Gary Convie, 24, shot dead close to a building site on Belfast's North Queen Street in May 1994.
:: Sean McDermott, a 37-year-old Catholic shot found shot dead in his car near Antrim in August 1994.
:: John Harbinson, murdered after being handcuffed and beaten by a UVF gang on the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast in May 1997.
He also admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; multiple counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.
Haggarty pleaded guilty as part of a controversial state deal that offered a reduced sentence in return for providing evidence on other terror suspects.
As a consequence his prison term was slashed from 35 years to six-and-a-half years due to the assistance provided to police.
Under the terms of the agreement signed back in 2010 he supplied information on scores of loyalist killings and attempted murders.
But only one man is to be prosecuted over a murder using his evidence.
Now the PPS is seeking to have his sentence reviewed and increased - a move defence lawyers believe is academic.
Even if the appeal succeeds Haggarty will not serve any longer behind bars because the murders were committed before the Good Friday Agreement, they contend.
Under the terms of that peace deal the maximum prison term for a terrorist offence committed before April 1998 is two years in prison.
Dressed in a suit, the convicted killer appeared by video-link from Maghaberry Prison for the scheduled court hearing.
But senior Crown Counsel Ciaran Murphy QC was granted an adjournment after telling the judges: "An administrative matter has arisen which has to be dealt with between the parties."
Belfast Telegraph Digital