Appeal against Gary Haggarty sentence ‘won’t see him returned to jail’

His lawyers say Gary Haggarty will not serve any more time in prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement
His lawyers say Gary Haggarty will not serve any more time in prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement

Any successful appeal against the sentence imposed on a notorious former loyalist paramilitary chief who admitted five murders will not lead to his rearrest and return to jail, it has been confirmed in court.

With no immediate urgency surrounding the challenge to the six-and-a-half-year prison term imposed on Gary Haggarty, senior judges have now listed the case for hearing in September.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is appealing on the basis that the UVF boss turned state informer received an unduly lenient sentence.

Haggarty, 46, has already been freed from jail and put into witness protection.

He has confessed to more than 500 offences committed while part of a UVF unit based in north Belfast.

He pleaded guilty as part of a controversial state deal that offered a reduced sentence in return for providing evidence on other terror suspects.

In January his prison term was slashed from 35 years to six-and-a-half years due to the information supplied on scores of loyalist killings and attempted murders.

But only one man is to be prosecuted over a murder using his evidence.

Despite Haggarty being released last month due to time served on remand, the PPS is seeking to have his sentence reviewed and increased.

Defence lawyers claim the legal move is academic. Haggarty will never serve any longer behind bars because the murders were committed before the Good Friday Agreement, they insist.

At a review in the Court of Appeal, judges sought confirmation on that point.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan pointed to the urgency in other cases where someone released from jail faces being rearrested and imprisoned again if a prosecution appeal against sentence succeeds.

“Am I right in thinking this is not such a case?” he asked senior Crown counsel.

Ciaran Murphy QC replied: “It’s not such a case, correct.”

Adjourning the appeal until after the summer recess, Sir Declan confirmed: “Realistically, it looks as though a September hearing is the right approach.”