Belfast Telegraph

What is justice? Supergrass Gary Haggarty sentence leaves UVF victim's son 'gutted' - six years for five murders

The son of a UVF murder victim said he was "gutted" at the six and a half year jail term handed down to the organisation's former north Belfast commander.

Gary Haggarty was sentenced to life, serving 35 years for five murders and almost 200 terrorist offences. However, it's been reported he could be released in four to six weeks.

However that term was slashed to six-and-a-half years because he agreed to become an assisting offender, commonly referred to as a "supergrass" to help with the prosecutions of others.

One individual is to be prosecuted over a murder using his evidence.

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 before he can be considered for release by Parole Commissioners.

He is also entitled to credit for the time he has spent on remand, awaiting sentence, a total of 1,186 days.

Haggarty has served almost four years on remand. After his release from prison he will enter a witness protection scheme.

It's been reported he could be freed between four to six weeks.

If you break it on down, he is a free man, he walks free, unreal. Kieran Fox

Among the five murders Haggarty was responsible for were that of "soft targets" Gary Convie and Eamon Fox, the judge said.

They were two Catholic workmen shot dead as they ate lunch in their van in North Belfast in 1994.

The judge said: "The victims in this case were particularly vulnerable.

"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."

Mr Fox's son Kieran said: "You hear 35 years for this murder and 20 for this, you are thinking there is a possibility this guy could do some time.

"If you break it on down, he is a free man, he walks free, unreal."

Special Branch got off an awful lot lighter than Gary Haggarty. Ciaran Shields, solicitor

He added: "He could have been sentenced 23 years ago when my father and Gary were murdered. What is justice in this country?

"It is just designed to look after the criminal. How could a man involved in that many crimes be set free into society?

"Gutted, absolutely gutted."

Mr Fox added: "That’s the life he chose, you live by the sword you die by the sword. All the families here today didn’t ask to be here, we were dragged in to this through no fault of our own. The police could have prevented us from being here but they didn’t, they prefer to look after a criminal, a terrorist (and) back him.

“It just seems life in this jurisdiction here is - you’re dispensable, it doesn’t matter, just get on with it.”

Gary Haggarty’s solicitor Ciaran Shields acknowledged there would be shock of the system but said that was how the system operated.

“A lot of people will find the SOCPA (Serious Organised Crime and Police Act) legislation and that process personally objectionable but it is on the statute books and in one sense he has got off lightly, Special Branch got off an awful lot lighter than Gary Haggarty," he said.

Haggarty, 46, pleaded guilty to five murders as his part of a controversial state deal that offered a significantly-reduced prison term in return for giving evidence against other terrorist suspects.

Judge Mr Justice Adrian Colton said Haggarty's was a case of "exceptional gravity".

"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."

Such evidence provided a check against the belief that these people are "untouchable" and major criminals may otherwise escape justice, the judge said.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, said in a statement: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been investigating a series of murders and other serious crimes by the UVF in north Belfast since 2010, following investigations and reports by the Police Ombudsman and the Historical Enquiries Team.

“Our thoughts today are first and foremost with the victims and their families especially those murdered by Gary Haggarty; namely Sean McParland who was shot in front of his young grandchildren in February 1994 and died as a result 8 days later; Eamon Fox and Gary Convie who were shot dead as they ate their lunch in their car in May 1994, Sean McDermott who was shot dead in August 1994 and John Harbinson who was attacked on May 18, 1997. Gary Haggarty has also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the murder of Peter McTasney, who was shot dead in his home in front of his 3 year old daughter in February 1991.

Nobody could ever fully appreciate how difficult a day this is for these families who have been so tragically affected. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton

“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.

“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. Detectives in the Operation Stafford team made strenuous efforts over a prolonged period of time, however any investigation into cases decades old is very difficult. As time passes these difficulties continue to grow and in the context of Northern Ireland's tragic past the overall investigative challenges are complicated still further.

"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."

In a statement Acting Deputy Director of the PPS Michael Agnew, said: “Today Gary Haggarty was sentenced at Belfast Crown Court to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of six and a half years. 

"He admitted 202 offences including the murders of Sean McParland, Gary Convie, Eamon Fox, Sean McDermott and John Harbinson and aiding and abetting the murder of Peter McTasney. A further 301 offences were taken into consideration.

“As the Judge set out in his ruling, a 75% discount was applied to the sentence for the assistance that Gary Haggarty has provided, 60% of which related to the assistance he provided under SOCPA. 

"Such levels of discount can arise in circumstances where criminals provide assistance in relation to serious crime that enables investigations to be pursued and prosecutions to be potentially brought. This is a difficult aspect of the regime, particularly for all victims and their families, but without it convictions for the many offences would not have been achieved.

“In addition, as announced last November, it is the intention of the PPS to use Haggarty as an accomplice witness in the prosecution of one suspect for the murders of Gary Convie and Eamon Fox and proceedings will issue in the coming months.

I understand that the outcome today is not without pain for the families, but I hope that they can take some small comfort from knowing that Haggarty has been brought to account for his actions. Acting Deputy Director of the PPS Michael Agnew

"I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere sympathy to them for all that they have endured and to pay tribute to them for the dignity they have maintained throughout the criminal justice proceedings.”

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