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A Northern Ireland loyalist paramilitary commander-turned-supergrass witness has admitted shooting a defenceless man in the neck at close range and involvement in a series of other crimes.
The confessions of Gary Haggarty (45) were outlined at Belfast Crown Court on Wednesday. The long-time police informer pleaded guilty to 202 terror offences, including five murders, as his part of a deal that offered a reduced prison term in return for giving evidence against other terror suspects.
The opening day of the sentence hearing was told that Haggarty and another UVF member were due to toss a coin to determine who would pull the trigger ahead of the murder of Sean McParland (55) in 1994. The court heard Haggarty dismissed the idea and demanded that he would be the killer.
Crown lawyer Ciaran Murphy QC told Mr Justice Colton that Haggarty said he was handed a promotion within the UVF for shooting Mr McParland after forcing entry to a house on Skegoneill Avenue in Belfast.
Mr McParland, who spoke with the aid of a voice box, was babysitting his young grandchildren at the time. He was not the intended target of the UVF attack but was shot in the neck.
Mr Murphy told the court that Haggarty, once leader of the UVF’s notorious Mount Vernon gang in north Belfast, expressed regret in his admission to detectives. “He said he is sorry, it was the wrong person killed — he is sorry for the kids that were there,” the barrister said.
The sentence hearing was also told that Haggarty has acknowledged that two more of his victims - Eamon Fox and Gary Convie - were innocent men and not republican paramilitaries as loyalists claimed at the time of their shooting in 1994.
Catholic workmen Mr Fox (44) and Mr Convie (24) were shot while they ate lunch in their car at a building site on North Queen Street in Belfast.
Haggarty claims he was not the gunman on that occasion, but that he escorted the killer to the location, shaking hands with him just prior to him opening fire on the men through a fence.
“He said he did not believe the victims were republicans, just soft, easy targets,” Mr Murphy said.
Mr Fox’s son Ciaran was one of a number of victims’ relatives in court as the details of Haggarty’s actions were recounted.
Mr Fox later said: “I knew the truth all along that my father was an innocent man but to hear that Haggarty has admitted before they actually carried out the shooting that my dad and Gary were both innocent, that they were not republicans as they claimed at the time — it was nice to hear that part.”
Haggarty also admitted being in the gang that abducted unemployed taxi driver John Harbinson in Belfast in 1997 prior to a brutal beating that killed him. Haggarty claimed he later went to retrieve a gun to deliver a “punishment” shooting on the 39-year-old but that colleagues had already administered the fatal beating in an alleyway.
Due to the need to outline details of all 200-plus offences on Haggarty’s charge sheet, the sentence hearing is expected to take at least two days.
Mr Justice Colton will then deliberate before determining the extent of sentence reduction the loyalist will be handed. He has already spent a number of years in custody on remand, so he could potentially serve no further time in prison.
Prosecutors have announced that he is to be used as a witness in the prosecution of an individual for the murders of Mr Fox and Mr Convie. However, the vast majority of individuals named by Haggarty in his police interviews will not face prosecution, amid concerns about a lack of supporting evidence.
Prosecutors have said Haggarty’s evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against 11 suspected UVF members and two former police intelligence officers, allegedly his then handlers.
As well as the five murders, Haggarty, who is in protective custody, has also admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; 23 counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.
He 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 Mr Harbinson, Mr McParland, Mr Convie, Mr Fox and Sean McDermott. Mr McDermott, a 37-year-old Catholic, was abducted and murdered by the UVF in Antrim in 1994.