‘To­ken ges­ture’ mur­der trial will solve noth­ing, says slain worker’s son

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY VIC­TO­RIA LEONARD

THE de­ci­sion to use ev­i­dence from a loy­al­ist para­mil­i­tary turned su­per­grass to pros­e­cute a sus­pect in the mur­ders of two Catholic work­men has been slammed as a “to­ken ges­ture” by the son of a vic­tim.

Yes­ter­day, Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions Barra McGrory con­firmed that a pros­e­cu­tion will be taken against a sus­pect named by for­mer UVF com­man­der Gary Hag­garty (45) over the mur­ders of Gary Con­vie (24) and Ea­mon Fox (44) on May 17, 1994.

The men were killed while eat­ing their lunch in a ve­hi­cle at a build­ing site on Belfast’s North Queen Street.

The in­di­vid­ual set to be pros­e­cuted was one of three re­main­ing sus­pects named by as­sist­ing of­fender Hag­garty.

It has been re­ported that the man to be charged is James Smyth, from Forthriver Link in Belfast.

How­ever, Ea­mon Fox’s son Kieran said he was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “mixed emo­tions” over the de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute.

“There were orig­i­nally 16 sus­pects and now it is down to one per­son go­ing to court,” he said.

“We have been promised a lot and noth­ing hap­pened, so we feel that this is a to­ken ges­ture to pros­e­cute some­one.

“We have known that the DNA and eye­wit­ness ev­i­dence ex­isted for years, but we don’t know why it hasn’t been used be­fore now.

“I don’t think this will give our fam­ily full clo­sure or peace of mind. It may give us part-clo­sure, but we be­lieve that there are a lot of peo­ple out there walk­ing about and sleep­ing in their own beds who may know what hap­pened.

“I want to know why my fa­ther was mur­dered. I have spent most of my life seek­ing jus­tice.

“I think that ul­ti­mately a pub­lic in­quiry will be needed. It will be the only way to get an­swers, as I don’t be­lieve we will get them through the le­gal sys­tem.”

Last month, Mr McGrory de­cided not to pros­e­cute 13 other in­di­vid­u­als named by Hag­garty, in­clud­ing two for­mer po­lice in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers.

The PPS said at that time that there was in­suf­fi­cient cor­rob­o­rat­ing ev­i­dence to sup­port the al­le­ga­tions lev­elled by the for­mer north Belfast UVF boss to

pro­vide a rea­son­able prospect of con­vic­tion.

Com­ment­ing on the de­ci­sion to pros­e­cute a sus­pect over the Fox and Con­vie mur­ders — which marks the first time Hag­garty’s ev­i­dence has been used against an­other per­son — Mr McGrory said he was “sat­is­fied there was in­de­pen­dent ev­i­dence which is ca­pa­ble of supporting his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the sus­pect” in­clud­ing “both eye­wit­ness and foren­sic ev­i­dence”.

He added: “In these cir­cum­stances, I have con­cluded that there is a rea­son­able prospect of con­vic­tion and that the test for pros­e­cu­tion is met. I con­firm that we in­tend to use as­sist­ing of­fender Gary Hag­garty as a wit­ness in this pros­e­cu­tion.”

The sus­pect is un­der­stood to have been pre­vi­ously charged with the mur­ders of Mr Fox and Mr Con­vie, but his case was not pro­ceeded with, pend­ing res­o­lu­tion of Hag­garty’s pros­e­cu­tion.

He is ex­pected to be charged in con­nec­tion with the mur­ders early in the new year.

Un­der the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, if con­victed he will be el­i­gi­ble for re­lease from prison within two years.

The sus­pect will also be charged with the at­tempted mur­der of a ‘Wit­ness A’, pos­ses­sion of a firearm and am­mu­ni­tion with in­tent to en­dan­ger life and mem­ber­ship of the UVF.

Yes­ter­day, Mr McGrory also re­vealed that no ac­tion would be taken against two sus­pects named by Hag­garty in re­la­tion to the mur­der of Alan John Harbin­son in the Mount Ver­non es­tate in 1997.

He said: “I have con­cluded that the test is not met in re­spect of ei­ther of the two re­ported sus­pects, on the ba­sis that the avail­able ev­i­dence does not pro­vide a rea­son­able prospect of con­vic­tion.

“I have spo­ken be­fore about the com­plex task of as­sess­ing the cred­i­bil­ity of an as­sist­ing of­fender. In re­la­tion to Gary Hag­garty, given all the rel­e­vant cir­cum­stances — in­clud­ing his ad­mit­ted crim­i­nal­ity — I con­sider that

his ev­i­dence alone is in­suf­fi­cient to prove an al­le­ga­tion be­yond a rea­son­able doubt.

“The ev­i­dence cur­rently avail­able to us does not pro­vide the nec­es­sary sup­port for Hag­garty’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the re­ported sus­pects as those in­volved in the ab­duc­tion and mur­der of Mr Harbin­son.”

Kieran Fox said that he felt sorry for the Harbin­son fam­ily.

“I have a lot of sym­pa­thy for the Harbin­son fam­ily — at least one of the sus­pects in my fa­ther’s mur­der will be brought to trial, but they have no clo­sure or jus­tice, noth­ing,” he added.

In the sum­mer, Hag­garty pleaded guilty to 202 ter­ror of­fences, in­clud­ing five mur­ders, in a deal that will see him re­ceive a sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced prison term in ex­change for his ev­i­dence un­der con­tro­ver­sial as­sist­ing of­fender leg­is­la­tion.

He could the­o­ret­i­cally in the fu­ture walk free to start a new life with a fresh iden­tity, given that he has al­ready served three years in cus­tody on re­mand — the equiv­a­lent of a six-year sen­tence. Hag­garty’s case is due to re­turn to court today, when le­gal sub­mis­sions will be made.

Ea­mon Fox and Gary Con­vie, who were killed in 1994, and (right), loy­al­ist in­former Gary Hag­garty

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