Northern Ireland

Nine men cleared of murdering UDA man Tommy English

Some of the acquitted men and their supporters emerge from the court after the verdicts
Image caption Some of the acquitted men and their supporters emerge from the court after the verdicts

Nine men involved in the UVF supergrass trial in Belfast have been acquitted of the murder of UDA leader Tommy English.

They include the alleged former UVF leader in north Belfast Mark Haddock.

Thirteen men had been charged with more than 30 offences including the murder of rival loyalist Mr English, kidnapping, and UVF membership.

Twelve out of the 13 were acquitted of all charges. Neil Pollock, 36, was convicted of possessing items intended for terrorism.

He was also convicted of intent to pervert the course of justice.

The trial, which ended last month after 71 days, was one of the longest and most expensive in Northern Ireland's legal history.

It relied on the evidence of so-called supergrasses, Robert and Ian Stewart.

In hisjudgement,Mr Justice Gillen told Belfast Crown Court on Wednesday that the Stewart brothers had been "ruthless terrorists who had lived on a daily diet of lies".

He said they were still "the same men in different suits".

The judge said: "These are witnesses of very bad character who have lied to the police and to the court; on some occasions wrongly implicated a number of men who were clearly not present at the crimes suggested".

He said that on "other occasions, at worst, (they) falsely embellished or, at best, wildly confused the roles and words of those whom they alleged were present, have clear difficulties distinguishing one crime scene from another and have given evidence which is flatly contradicted by unchallenged independent evidence throughout the process".

Mr Justice Gillen said the ongoing advances in forensic science and the limited statutory abolition of the rule against double jeopardy might ensure that those who committed these crimes will "yet face their just desserts".

Earlier, the court heard Pollock was convicted because a witness had seen him buying a sledgehammer and he admitted buying it. It was believed to have been used in the English murder.

The BBC's Ireland Correspondent, Mark Simpson, said about 200 people were in the courtroom, including armed police.

Acquitted of Mr English's murder along with Mark Haddock were David Miller, 40; Alex Wood, 35; John Bond, 45; Darren Moore, 42; Ronald Bowe, 35; Samuel Higgins, 36; Jason Loughlin, 36, and Philip Laffin, 34.

They were also cleared of other charges including UVF membership, wounding, possessing guns and hijacking.

The others acquitted of offences including assisting offenders and perverting the course of justice were William Hinds, 47, David McCrum, 32, and Mark Thompson, 37.

The trial began last September.

Much of it was taken up by the testimonies of Robert and Ian Stewart.

They admitted UVF membership, and already served more than three years for their part in the murder of Mr English on Halloween night 2000.

The Ulster Defence Association member was shot dead in front of his wife and children at his home on the Ballyduff estate at the height of a loyalist feud between the UVF and UDA.

Show trial

After the verdicts, Progressive Unionist Party spokesman Ken Wilkinson said the proceedings had been "a show trial".

He said the Stewart brothers had been shown to be "blatant liars".

Raymond Laverty, a spokesperson for the Families Against Supergrass Trials group, also criticised the trial.

"It's regrettable that the use of uncorroborated, unsupported supergrasses is re-emerging in this jurisdiction," he said.

"Throughout such show trials in the past, the evidence of such supergrasses has been demonstrated as unreliable, dishonest, contaminated, collusive and not worthy of belief."

Image caption Tommy English was murdered on Halloween night 2000

In a statement, the PSNI said the case had passed "every test in terms of grounds for arrest, evidence to charge, going to trial and being sufficient for a judge to decide there was a case to answer".

"Ultimately, the court was not satisfied in respect of the case against the majority of the defendants beyond a reasonable doubt," they said.

"However, the judgment makes clear that Serious Crime Branch and the Historical Enquiries Team acted properly in advancing the investigation and presenting the case to the Public Prosecution Service."

The PSNI said the investigation would continue and urged anyone with information to "come forward".

The Public Prosecution Service said it was satisfied "that the prosecution was properly brought".

"The rejection by the trial judge at the half-way stage of a defence application to stop the trial and his conclusion that it was conceivable that he could convict the accused lends support to the view that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with this case," they said.

"This was the view taken by the trial judge after the cross-examination of the principal witnesses.

"However, in order to convict, the court must be satisfied of the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.

"In this case, the judge concluded that the credibility of the principal witnesses was not such as to allow him to be satisfied to that high standard."

Tommy English's widow, Doreen English, who gave evidence about her husband's murder, said she was disappointed at the verdict.

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