Two men jailed for loyalist terrorist-related offences were allegedly entrapped by police agents given “carte blanche” to commit crime, the Court of Appeal has heard.
Lawyers for John Patterson Hill and John Hamilton Grace claimed their historic convictions should be quashed due to collusion and unfair trial processes.
Their joint legal challenges centre on the suspected role of notorious ex-UVF bosses Mark Haddock, Gary Haggarty and Colin ‘Crazy’ Craig.
Hill, a 48-year-old from the north of the city, was jailed for three years over a bar attack during a vicious loyalist feud in 1997.
He was found guilty of arson and other offences connected to the smashing up and setting fire to the Golden Hind pub in Portadown.
The incident, linked to a bitter dispute between the UVF and rival Loyalist Volunteer Force, led to 12 men being prosecuted.
Hill’s legal representatives believe UVF commander-turned supergrass Haggarty worked as a state informant when the Golden Hind was targeted.
Last year Haggarty, 47, confessed to hundreds of paramilitary offences as part of a controversial state deal which offered a reduced sentence in return for providing evidence on other loyalist crime. He has since been released from prison.
The appeal also focuses on the alleged activities of Haddock, another ex-leader of the same terror unit which operated out of the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast.
He has been connected to former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s findings in 2007 of collusion between some Special Branch officers and that loyalist gang.
The watchdog linked a covert human intelligence source – identified only in the case as ‘Informant 1’ – to 10 murders.
In 2014 Haddock, 51, was jailed for 12 years at Woolwich Crown Court for a knife attack on a friend.
Similar grounds of appeal were advanced on behalf of west Belfast man Grace, over his conviction for firearms offences during the 1990s.
His challenge focuses on the alleged involvement of Colin Craig, a senior UVF member shot dead by the INLA in 1994.
Opening the two men’s cases, Brendan Kelly QC argued that the prosecution should have fully disclosed the role of any agents.
“What is necessary is for them to clear the decks as to the actual nature of the informants in both cases,” he said.
“Were they simply informants, or was their relationship such as to promote it to an agent of the Crown.”
Based on the ombudsman’s report, counsel said Informant 1 had been a “protected species, highly involved in crime and rarely held to account”.
During a 12-year period he was paid in excess of £75,000, the court heard.
Mr Kelly contended that agents were convicted of crimes such as the the Golden Hind attack to “keep up appearances”.
However, he insisted: “They were given carte blanche.”
Asked what it would mean if ordinary members of a UVF gang were carrying out crime for agents, the barrister gave a clear assessment.
He said: “As much as it’s unpalatable or unattractive for an individual to say they had been entrapped, if the reality is that he’s called on by an agent and it wouldn’t have happened otherwise, it’s entrapment.”.
Later, counsel for the Public Prosecution Service requested an adjournment after receiving new information related to the appeals.
Gerald Simpson QC explained: “It’s clear there are further inquiries we will have to make from our side.”
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan agreed to put the cases back to next month.
Outside court a solicitor representing Hill and Grace said they were frustrated by the further delay.
John Greer of Reavey and Company, added: “There’s a lot of material in existence and as yet undisclosed that we say supports their contention that police and their agents colluded in entrapping them.
“On that basis they were denied a fair trail and their convictions are unsafe.”