UVF killer Haggarty who admitted 202 terror crimes, including five murders, may be free in weeks
Families of his victims slam jail term
The prison sentence handed down to former UVF commander turned state informer Gary Haggarty has been slammed by the families of his victims.
The loyalist supergrass was sentenced to a minimum six-and-a-half-year sentence at Belfast Crown Court after admitting over 200 offences - including multiple murders.
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With time spent on remand, Haggarty, who was a paid police informer for 11 years, is now eligible to go before the Life Sentence Parole Commissioners and could be freed within weeks.
Haggarty admitted a litany of terrorist offences, including five murders, one count of aiding and abetting murder, 23 counts of conspiracy to murder and four counts of kidnapping.
He admitted to the offences during a series of police interviews over two years.
During Haggarty's hour-long sentencing yesterday, the court heard of his 16-year reign of terror after joining the UVF in 1991.
Mr Justice Colton outlined details of Haggarty's murderous offences as the victims' families listened from the public gallery.
In 2010, Haggarty agreed to become an assisting offender under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) and provided information on 55 loyalist murders and 20 attempted murders. He admitted the murders of John Harbinson in May 1997; Sean McParland in February 1994; Gary Convie and Eamon Fox in May 1994, and Sean McDermott in August 1994.
The judge said that Mr Convie and Mr Fox, who were two Catholic workmen shot dead as they ate lunch in their van in north Belfast, were "soft targets".
"The victims in this case were particularly vulnerable," he said.
"They were deliberately targeted because of their religion. This was a terrorist offence and part of an ongoing sectarian campaign which rendered the offences especially grave." The judge continued: "He has been involved in a terrorist campaign over a 16-year period, that campaign has resulted in deaths for which he was directly responsible. The organisation he supported and assisted has resulted in untold damage to individual lives and society as a whole."
Among those killed was grandfather Mr McParland, who was shot dead by Haggarty in front of his children. Haggarty killed him to protect his position as an informer, the judge said.
He sentenced him to 35 years in prison for that offence. This was reduced by 75% for all assistance to prosecutors, then by a further 25% for his guilty plea, producing a tariff of six-and-a-half years in prison. He is also entitled to credit for the time he has spent on remand awaiting sentence, a total of 1,186 days.
He could be released from Maghaberry prison within weeks and join a PSNI/MI5 witness protection scheme under a new identity. Speaking outside court, Mr Fox's son Kieran said: "The man is a serial killer, he was a paid State informer, he was allowed to kill at will. Police knew he was killing at will and let it continue." Mr Fox said the families were "absolutely gutted".
Gary Haggarty's solicitor Ciaran Shields commented: "A lot of people will find the SOCPA legislation and that process personally objectionable but it is on the statute books and in one sense he has got off lightly."
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said his thoughts were with the victims of Haggarty's "evil crimes". He added: "Questions remain unanswered for other victims impacted by this individual and calls into question the merits of this entire process.
"Concerns were raised regarding the reliability of Mr Haggarty's evidence at an early stage and the outcome of the trial has done nothing to address those concerns. The PSNI and the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) must learn lessons from this trial."
Sinn Fein justice spokesperson Raymond McCartney said the victims' families have received neither "truth nor justice".
"This reduced sentence means that he is effectively getting away with murder," he said.
"But families are also being denied the truth around allegations that Haggarty's RUC Special Branch may have ignored warnings about murder and may have covered up his involvement in murders and attempted murders over many years."
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the PSNI "fully realise that there will be many questions surrounding the Haggarty case. However, as he is now a key witness in a forthcoming trial PSNI is now prevented by law from talking about this case".
He added: "PSNI would also acknowledge that today has been a very difficult day for the families of those so tragically affected by the cases which did not reach the prosecutorial threshold.
"Significant attempts have been made by the PSNI to bring justice to the families of the victims but we fully realise that this provides little comfort to these families whose grief remains undiminished with time.
"Our thoughts are also with them today."