A notorious loyalist paramilitary commander turned supergrass Gary Haggarty has been given a six-and-a-half year sentence for 202 terror offences, including five murders..
Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) chief Gary Haggarty, 45, a long-time police informer, has pleaded guilty to a litany of serious crimes as his part of a controversial state deal that offered a significantly reduced prison term in return for giving evidence against other terrorist suspects.
He was sentenced on Monday. Justice Adrian Colton said it was a case of "exceptional gravity" and untold damage had been caused to individual lives and society as a whole.
"The fact he was involved directly in multiple terrorist murders must be an aggravating factor," the judge said.
"He has been involved in a terrorist campaign over a 16-year period that campaign has resulted in deaths for which he was directly responsible.
"The organisation he supported and assisted has resulted in untold damage to individual lives and society as a whole."
Such evidence provided a check against the belief that these people are "untouchable" and major criminals may otherwise escape justice, the judge said.
He acknowledged those who become informers face torture and execution if caught.
He said Haggarty's was not a Road to Damascus conversion, rather one motivated by self-interest, but said he had given "substantial" assistance to prosecutors.
The catalogue of offences stretch from 1991 to 2007 and include the loyalist murders of John Harbinson, Sean McParland, Gary Convie, Eamon Fox and Sean McDermott.
As well as the five murders, Haggarty, who is in protective custody, admitted five attempted murders, including against police officers; 23 counts of conspiracy to murder; directing terrorism; and membership of a proscribed organisation.
The former boss of the UVF’s notorious north Belfast Mount Vernon unit confessed to his crimes after signing his contentious supergrass deal following his arrest in 2009. Since turning state witness, Haggarty provided information on 55 loyalist murders and 20 attempted murders in 1,015 police interviews.
However, prosecutors are to mount a prosecution against only one man, for two murders, on the back of the evidence.
The vast majority of individuals named by Haggarty in his police interviews will not face prosecution amid state concerns about a lack of supporting evidence.
Graphic details of Haggarty’s murderous confessions were outlined at a pre-sentence hearing last year, as were explosive claims that police failed to prevent loyalist murders despite receiving advance warning from their high-ranking UVF informant.
Haggarty has already served three years on remand.