Supergrass trial

Published Saturday, 10 September 2011
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So, the biggest mass terrorist trial is now well underway...

It's been compared to the Supergrass cases of old. I was just a schoolgirl when all that unfolded, but I remember watching it on our black and white television at home wondering 'what's all that about'... Now I know.

Ex-UVF commander Mark Haddock and 13 of his former allies are facing almost 100 charges.

Most related to the murder of UDA leader Tommy English back in 2000 at the height of the bloody feud between the UDA and UVF. The others relate to so-called punishment attacks, kidnapping and blackmail.

They are in the dock because of two brothers Robert and David (Ian) Stewart - former UVF men - are telling all.

Both have already admitted their part in the English murder and a litany of other UVF crimes.

So how did this trial come about?

The Historical Enquires Team were investigating the activities of the UVF in Mount Vernon, north Belfast.

The Stewarts saw an article in relation to that in a newspaper back in 2008, and confessed all to police. It was major breakthrough for the authorities. The murky world of terrorism is always hard to penetrate.

But prosecutors and the police are at pains to point out this is not the same as the supergrass trials of old.

They insist new legislation introduced in 2005, which is also used in England, provides more safeguards.

It has already been successful in the UVF double murder of David McIllwaine and Andrew Robb in 2000.

Steven Leslie Brown was convicted of killing the young men on the word of a former associate Mark Burcombe, who in returned received a reduced sentence.

That's exactly what the Stewart brothers got - a reduced sentence.

The success of this case really hinges on their testimony, and their integrity as witnesses.

And after week one, that's already in the dock.

Robert Stewart has been in the witness box, since the first day.

The scenes in the courtroom were dramatic, like something out of a movie.

I've never seen so many people in wigs in the one courtroom for this diplock trial.

Thirteen of the accused casually walked into the dock.

The fourteenth - Mark Haddock - is in custody for the duration of this trial because there are fears he could be killed.

He was led out of the cells into the courtroom, flanked by seven prison officers. He sat separately from his former friends now turned foes.

When you thought it couldn't get more surreal, Haddock then give the thumbs up before the trial started...

You could cut the tension with a knife in court number 12.

Then Robert Stewart came in - all eyes were on him.

Those in the dock eyeballed him; some smirked at him for hours as he outlined his life as a terrorist implicating all those in the dock.

On the murder of Tommy English, Stewart claimed Haddock ordered it, telling the gunmen not to hurt English's children.

Stewart named another sitting in the dock, who he claimed wanted to get it over with so he could have a Kebab.

Stewart also talked about being sworn into the UVF, allegedly in Mark Haddock's house, and gave details of so-called punishment attacks.

All compelling, jaw-dropping stuff...

Then came the cross-examination.

Stewart admitted being a life-long alcoholic with a drugs problem.

He said: "In the last few years I cut down a lot... There was a time I took a lot of drugs... E, Cocaine, smoke the odd joint, sniffed glue... I had a varied drug habit... I was on Valium at the time. I was taking 60 mg of Valium a day."

After admitted being addicted to drink and drugs, another bombshell came....

Stewart admitted lying to police in his first interviews. He admitted leaving two individuals out of events.

The defence seized on this accusing him of making up a "cock and bull story".

Stewart said he had been nervous in those first interviews, under pressure, but insisted he was still telling the truth.

As the cross-examination went on, Stewart was getting increasingly agitated and he later apologised for getting angry.

The court didn't sit on Friday because of the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis - a request by police because of security concerns.

On Monday Haddock's defence will continue their cross-examination.

Then lawyers for the rest of the accused will get the chance to ask Stewart questions.

He will be in the witness box for some time. Then his brother will testify and the whole process will start again.

Of course, there are other witnesses, a man injured in a so-called punishment attack, Tommy English's widow and police etc.

Fourteen weeks have been set aside for this trial, but the way things are going it could take much long. Or you never know, there could be a surprise along the way that could bring it all to a dramatic halt.

A lot is at stake here... and many people are watching to see how it all plays out.

© UTV News
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Sharon O'Neill
Sharon O'Neill

Sharon is a graduate of the University of central Lancashire in Preston. She graduated with a 2:1 degree in journalism. She was a mature student - (though she didn't act it at times!)

After studying she freelanced for both the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph, then she was a sub-editor at the Daily Mirror despite some terrible spelling. Then she got a job as a reporter with the Irish News and two years later became their chief reporter.

She then moved to UTV and went in front of the camera, though she insists she's not a natural. She finds every day can be memorable in its own little way.

In her spare time she loves keeping fit, feeding her coffee addiction and the occasional dance.

Her phrase of choice is 'Let's check out of this cheap hotel'.

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