Security Dominates Belfast UVF Court Case

Security around Belfast's Laganside Courthouse is being tightened up this morning as the first so-called 'supergrass-styled' trial to be held in Northern Ireland for well over two decades is due to begin.

Amid fears of both problems at the court itself and possibly across Belfast as several alleged UVF men face serious charges, the PSNI has taken steps to both prevent trouble in central Belfast and to place on stand-by extra officers to deal with any associated street trouble.

Nine alleged UVF men, including former leading member Mark Haddock, stand charged with the murder of UDA leader Tommy English in October 2000.

They and another five alleged UVF men also face a range of other charges.

In a virtual 'return' to the previously discredited 'supergrass' system, the main evidence against them is expected to come from two brothers, Robert and David Stewart, themselves former UVF members.

Legal Matters

The difference is however that UK-wide anti-gangster legislation is being used to support the prosecutions that come on foot of the murder of Mr English.

He was shot dead in front of his wife at his home in the loyalist Ballyduff estate in Newtownabbey, during a feud between the UDA and the UVF.

As the experienced legal commentator, Rosemary Craig explained last night; the trial is actually being held under new legislation introduced in 2005.

This is the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which allows a suspect to enter a written agreement to give evidence against other alleged criminals.

The trial remains contentious however, as the police investigation which led to the arrests of the men on trial followed a damning report by the former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan in 2007 in which she claimed a UVF gang based in the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast had been involved in up to 15 murders.

She also alleged that RUC Special Branch had allowed its informers within the Mount Vernon UVF to "act with impunity".

Police mounted a huge security operation around Belfast Crown Court in case supporters of the accused mount a protest or stage disruption in or around the court and across Belfast.


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