Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE -

The fam­i­lies of Ea­mon Fox and Gary Con­vie, two Catholic work­men mur­dered by the UVF 23 years ago, will be hop­ing that the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions is cor­rect to be op­ti­mistic that there is a rea­son­able prospect of con­vic­tion.

While it would be im­proper for us to com­ment on the po­ten­tial case against the sus­pect, it is pub­lic knowl­edge that part of the ev­i­dence will be given by as­sist­ing of­fender Gary Hag­garty, a for­mer UVF com­man­der.

The use of as­sist­ing of­fend­ers — or su­per­grasses as they used to be known — is a tac­tic which has had a che­quered past in North­ern Ire­land.

Its use dur­ing the dark­est days of the Trou­bles in the 1980s served a dual pur­pose.

It led to hun­dreds of sus­pected repub­li­can and loy­al­ist ter­ror­ists be­ing ar­rested and held on re­mand for con­sid­er­able pe­ri­ods, giv­ing the hard-pressed se­cu­rity forces valu­able breath­ing space and the abil­ity to re­group dur­ing times of con­stant vi­o­lence. And it did re­sult in some suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tions.

How­ever, it was a tac­tic which was even­tu­ally dis­cred­ited and largely aban­doned af­ter the ju­di­ciary com­plained they were be­ing used for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses. But it has been res­ur­rected in re­cent times as po­lice sought to bring to jus­tice a UVF gang based in the Mount Ver­non es­tate on the out­skirts of north Belfast sus­pected of in­volve­ment in a large num­ber of killings — mostly sec­tar­ian — and also said to be deeply pen­e­trated by RUC Special Branch in­form­ers.

It has met with lit­tle suc­cess. In 2012 two broth­ers who be­came as­sist­ing of­fend­ers were branded liars by the judge and 12 of the 13 men in the dock walked free.

Hag­garty, who agreed to be­come an as­sist­ing of­fender, pleaded guilty to a se­ries of crimes in­clud­ing mur­der and has al­ready spent three years in cus­tody.

He was in­ter­viewed by de­tec­tives more than 1,000 times pro­duc­ing huge vol­umes of ev­i­dence but the lack of cor­rob­o­ra­tion led to a de­ci­sion ear­lier this year not to pros­e­cute 13 men. An­other mur­der case against two other men was dropped later.

Bring­ing so­phis­ti­cated ter­ror­ists to jus­tice is a dif­fi­cult task as the legacy of the Trou­bles proves with al­most 3,000 un­solved mur­ders, and the po­lice and le­gal au­thor­i­ties are en­ti­tled to use ev­ery le­git­i­mate method to bring some com­fort or clo­sure to the be­reaved. But they must be care­ful not to add to fam­i­lies’ pain by rais­ing hope and pro­duc­ing fail­ure.

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