Supergrass trial: Witness admits life of drink and drug problems
Published 07/09/2011 | 15:07
A convicted loyalist terrorist who is testifying for the Crown in one of Northern Ireland's largest ever paramilitary trials has admitted to being a life long alcoholic, with a drugs habit who fled the region with money stolen from his parents.
Robert Stewart, 37, who is giving evidence against alleged Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) commander Mark Haddock and 13 other defendants, told Belfast Crown Court he also sometimes has problems with his memory.
The 14 accused face a litany of paramilitary charges, with Haddock and seven others facing the most serious count of murdering rival loyalist leader Tommy English in north Belfast 11 years ago.
They all deny the charges.
Ulster Defence Association (UDA) boss English, 40, was gunned down in his house in front of his wife and three young children just after 6pm on Halloween in 2000 during a bloody feud between the UDA and UVF.
Stewart and his brother David Ian Stewart have both turned state's evidence in return for a reduced sentence in pleading guilty to aiding and abetting the murder and UVF membership.
Details of Robert Stewart's vices emerged as he was cross examined by Haddock's lawyer on the second day of the high profile non jury trial in front of judge Justice John Gillen.
Frank O'Donoghue QC had asked why he was unable to recall specific details about the day in July 2008 when he and his brother fled the north Belfast estate they lived in in the period before handing themselves in to police.
Stewart blamed his consumption of vodka that day and went on to add: "I have been an alcoholic all my life."
The witness then confessed to being a habitual drug user, taking E tablets, cocaine, cannabis, acid and glue as well as prescription valium.
"The last few years I would have cut down a lot but there were times I took a lot of drugs and alcohol," he said.
Stewart told the lawyer that he and his brother fled to Scotland, then England before returning to Northern Ireland to spend a week in the seaside resort of Portrush before finally handing themselves in.
He said they had funded the travel with £2,000 his brother stole from his parents' house.
"It's terrible," Stewart said of the theft.
Stewart has claimed Haddock planned and directed the plan to murder English.
Mr O'Donoghue asked the witness if had he difficulty with his memory.
"Some parts," he replied. "Everybody has difficulty at some times. Large events I don't have any difficulty with, (with) drinking maybe."
As he did yesterday, Haddock sat outside the dock of court 12 away from the other defendants over concerns for his safety.
Dressed in a red and white striped polo shirt he looked on as Mr O'Donoghue accused Stewart of fabricating his evidence that his client had plotted the shooting in a flat in the hours before the attack.
"I want to suggest to you that you have made that up, that's a cock and bull story and under no circumstances was Mr Haddock ever there (in the flat)," he said.
"Then I would say Mr Haddock is lying," Stewart replied.
There is simmering anger within loyalism that Haddock and the other defendants will be tried on evidence based largely on the testimony of the Stewart brothers.
Supporters of the 14 accused have likened the case to the so-called supergrass trials in the 1980s, which saw both loyalist and republican paramilitaries jailed on the evidence of former colleagues who turned state's evidence.