Northern Ireland

UVF supergrass case: 'Gunman told to miss English family'

Mark Haddock
Image caption Mark Haddock is one of nine people charged with the murder of Tommy English

A former UVF man has started giving evidence at a 'supergrass' trial in Belfast.

Robert Stewart, 37, was giving evidence against the men he says were in the same UVF gang.

Mr Stewart was given a 75% reduction in his sentence for his part in the murder of loyalist Tommy English in 2000 in return for giving evidence.

He said the UVF chief who ordered the murder told the gunman to try to avoid shooting the rest of the family.

"Try to miss the kids," is what Mark Haddock, 42, is alleged to have said, with a smirk.

Mr Stewart said Haddock had earlier asked who wanted to carry out the shooting.

He said three of the men in the dock, Ronald Bowe, Jason Loughlin and Alexander Wood volunteered.

He also claimed Darren Moore said he would drive them.

Haddock and eight others deny murder.

Fourteen defendants - aged between 32 and 46 - face a total of 97 charges.

It is the first 'supergrass' trial in Belfast for 25 years and began amid high security inside and outside the court.

It is also the largest paramilitary murder trial in Belfast since the 1980s. There are almost 200 people in the courtroom.

Nine of the men are charged with the murder of UDA member Mr English in October 2000.

Two brothers, David and Robert Stewart, are giving evidence against the 14 accused. In return, the two former UVF men got a reduced sentence for their part in the murder.

Thirteen defendants are in the dock - Haddock has been separated, sitting outside the dock surrounded by prison officers.

Two of his co-accused, Darren Moore and Ronald Bowe, were previously charged with trying to murder Haddock in 2006, but charges were dropped when he refused to give evidence.

Supporters of the accused staged a low-key protest outside Laganside courts against the use of so-called supergrasses.

Halloween murder

Gordon Kerr QC opened the case for the prosecution and took the court back to Halloween night in 2000 when Mr English was murdered.

He outlined the evidence the Stewart brothers will give to the court on how the murder was conceived, planned and carried out.

Mr Kerr told the judge that the brothers claim Haddock and other senior UVF members in north Belfast planned the killing in retaliation for the shooting of a colleague at the height of a bloody feud between the UDA and UVF.

He said the trial would hear evidence from Robert Stewart that Haddock and a number of his co-accused had gathered in a flat close to where Mr English lived on the morning of the murder to discuss the plot.

Mr English was gunned down in front of his wife at his home in the Ballyduff estate in Newtownabbey.

The shooting happened shortly after 18:00 GMT and Mr Kerr said Haddock left the flat at about 16:00 GMT.

Mr Kerr said Mr English's name had been mentioned "early on by Haddock", referring to Robert Stewart's claims.

The lawyer said that according to Mr Stewart, in the hours before the attack one of the gunmen had claimed that he "wanted it to be all over so he could go home and have a kebab".

Mr Kerr also said David Stewart claimed Haddock had made it clear that he wanted Mr English dead and had allegedly declared: "I want him done, shot dead."

The lawyer also recalled Mr English's wife Doreen's account of the shooting.

She said a gang of masked men had forced their way in the back door of their home, assaulted her and then pushed through into the house to shoot her husband.

Mr Kerr said that at one point she had heard one of the men shouting to the others to come back and "finish" her husband.

He was then shot again as he lay on the floor.

Both the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and UDA (Ulster Defence Association) are loyalist paramilitary groups responsible for the murder of hundreds of people during the troubles.

The 14 defendants are being represented by 24 barristers and eight firms of solicitors and the trial is expected to last for 11 weeks.

The term supergrass was first used in Northern Ireland in the 1980s when a number of terrorist suspects were convicted on the evidence of former comrades.

Image caption A small number of protestors gathered outside the court in Belfast

However, after a series of appeals, the credibility of the witnesses was called into question and all those convicted under the system were released.

The trial beginning on Tuesday is being held under new legislation introduced in 2005, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which allows a suspect to enter a written agreement to give evidence against other alleged criminals.

The police investigation which led to the arrests followed a damning report by the former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan in 2007.

She said a UVF gang based in the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast had been involved in up to 15 murders and that Special Branch had allowed its informers within the Mount Vernon UVF to act with impunity.

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