Police failed to prevent two loyalist murders despite receiving advance warning of the plots from a paramilitary commander turned informant, a court has heard.
Intelligence officers in the RUC’s Special Branch also advised loyalist supergrass Gary Haggarty not to answer detectives’ questions when he was arrested over a murder he committed, a sentence hearing in Belfast Crown Court was told.
UVF chief Haggarty, 45, a long-time police informer, has pleaded guilty to 202 terror offences, including 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.
During the second day of a hearing to consider his ultimate tariff, Haggarty’s defence barrister argued that while his client was automatically entitled to a reduction for turning state’s witness in 2010, the terror boss should also be given credit for assisting Special Branch since becoming an RUC agent in 1993.
Martin O’Rourke QC claimed Haggarty warned his handlers that his UVF colleagues planned to kill fellow member Raymond McCord Jnr in November 1997.
He said Haggarty, the one-time boss of the UVF’s notorious north Belfast Mount Vernon gang, was in custody at the time Mr McCord’s death was being planned and he phoned Special Branch on his own mobile and the jail payphone to alert them.
“The defendant told Special Branch of the plot to kill Mr McCord,” the lawyer told judge Mr Justice Colton.
The killing was not prevented. Mr McCord was beaten to death by the Mount Vernon UVF and his body was dumped in a quarry in north Belfast.
Mr O’Rourke further claimed that Haggarty informed Special Branch of his gang’s intention to shoot a random taxi driver in Antrim on June 17 1994.
Catholic taxi driver Gerard Brady, 27, was shot dead that night, hours after Haggarty allegedly provided his handlers with detailed information on the plan.
The barrister said Haggarty contacted his handlers after the murder to ask why it had not been stopped.
“He was told they had followed the vehicle but they had lost them,” said Mr O’Rourke.
The lawyer said in the wake of both murders Haggarty provided officers with the names of the individuals involved.
One of the five murders Haggarty has admitted himself was that of 55-year-old Belfast grandfather Sean McParland in 1994.
He confessed to that crime and a litany of others after signing his contentious supergrass deal following his arrest in 2009.
The court heard he had been arrested in the immediate aftermath of the sectarian shooting of Mr McParland, however was urged by Special Branch to keep quiet.
“His handlers told him he should refuse to answer questions,” said Mr O’Rourke.
Outlining the extent of his co-operation with Special Branch during the Troubles, Mr O’Rourke further claimed:
• information provided by Haggarty thwarted the murder of a Sinn Fein worker;
• a tip-off from Haggarty prevented the killing of a brother of a suspected IRA member;
• Haggarty gave Special Branch officers a copy of a key to a block of flats in Mount Vernon that contained a loyalist arms store. He alerted his handlers to the weapons that were there, but Special Branch did not seize them. One of the guns was subsequently used to kill Mr Brady;
• provided his handlers detailed information on those responsible for beating to death father-of-four John Harbinson in north Belfast in 1997.
Since turning supergrass, Haggarty provided information on 55 loyalist murders and 20 attempted murders in 1,015 police interviews.
Prosecutors are to mount a prosecution against one man, for two murders, on the back of the loyalist godfather’s evidence.
However, the vast majority of individuals named by Haggarty will not face prosecution amid state concerns about a lack of supporting evidence.
At the close of the sentence hearing Justice Colton said he had to consider a “vast amount of material”.
As such, he said he would reserve his decision and hand down the sentence in the new year.
Mr McParland’s daughter Sinead Monaghan was one of a number of victims’ relatives who observed proceedings at court.
She said action should be taken against other loyalists and Special Branch officers.
“Those other people remain at large and we haven’t received the answers we deserve yet,” she said outside court.