Gary Haggarty: UVF supergrass sentencing adjourned amid defence concerns

Gary Haggarty
Gary Haggarty

The sentencing of a loyalist paramilitary-turned-supergrass has been postponed amid concerns from his defence team over a prosecution report.

Gary Haggarty, 45, pleaded guilty in the summer to 202 terror offences, including five murders, in a contentious state deal which offered him a significantly reduced prison term in exchange for his evidence.

He was due to be sentenced next week and was expected to walk free, having already served three years in custody on remand - the equivalent of a six-year sentence - under the controversial assisting offender legislation.

However, the sentencing judge has had to adjourn the matter after the defence team raised a number of concerns.

It is understood the new matters raised by the defence focus on an assistance document provided by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

The PPS has confirmed to the Press Association that the sentence hearing has been adjourned.

A spokeswoman said: "The PPS can confirm that a sentencing hearing for assisting offender Gary Haggarty, scheduled to commence on October 25 and 26, will no longer take place on those dates at the direction of the court.

"This is to allow time for the prosecution to respond to a number of new matters raised by Haggarty's defence team ahead of sentencing.

"As these matters are still before the court, it would not be appropriate for the PPS to comment any further."

There was anger last week when the PPS announced its decision not to prosecute 13 suspects implicated by Haggarty, including two former police intelligence officers.

The PPS said there was insufficient corroborating evidence to support the allegations levelled by Ulster Volunteer Force boss Haggarty to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction.

Prominent victims campaigner Raymond McCord - whose son, Raymond McCord Junior, was murdered by the UVF in November 1997 - said he is to begin legal action against the PPS on Friday for not pursuing the prosecutions.

He also said Haggarty should not benefit from a reduced sentence under the assisting offender scheme because his evidence did not result in prosecution.

"I have instructed my lawyers to begin High Court legal action against the (PPS) director Barra McGrory's decision not to pursue the prosecutions. Papers will be lodged with the court today. I am seeking a judicial review of that decision," said Mr McCord.

"If there is any justice, Haggarty will receive life sentences for five murders and all his other crimes. He should not receive any benefit from the assisting offender scheme because his evidence was not deemed to be good enough by the PPS to pursue prosecutions," he added.

Defending his decision not to pursue prosecutions, Mr McGrory said recently that assessing the credibility of an assisting offender was a "complex task".

He added: "Full and careful consideration has been given to all of the evidence currently available in respect of all cases.

"I have now concluded that the evidence currently available is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against 11 of the suspects reported by the PSNI and the two police officers reported by Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland."

As well as the five murders, Haggarty, who is currently in protective custody, admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; 23 counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.

Haggarty was interviewed more than 1,000 times by detectives in one of the biggest and most complex cases undertaken in Northern Ireland.

The catalogue of offences stretch over a 16-year period from 1991 to 2007 and include the loyalist murders of John Harbinson, Sean McParland, Gary Convie, Eamon Fox and Sean McDermott.

Haggarty, the boss of the UVF's notorious North Belfast Mount Vernon unit, provided evidence against others in relation to the murders of Mr Convie, Mr Fox, Mr McParland and Mr Harbinson.

There will be no prosecutions over the murder of Mr McParland.

Evidence provided by Haggarty linking one suspect to the murders of Mr Convie and Mr Fox and linking two suspects to Mr Harbinson's murder are still under consideration by the PPS.