CHARGES against the nine defendants accused of the murder of UDA man Tommy English were dismissed at a hearing in Belfast Crown Court today (February 22).
From September, 14 men have stood accused of a litany of offences based around the evidence of two brothers from New Mossley who became “assisting offenders” in order to receive a reduced sentence for themselves.
In the closing stages of the trial a number of charges were thrown out, clearing one man.
On Wednesday, (February 22) all but one of the remaining 13 accused had all charges against them dismissed.
Neil Pollock, 36, of Fortwilliam Gardens was found guilty of perverting the course of justice and possessing an item intended for terrorism, namely a sledgehammer.
Acquitted of Mr English’s murder were Mark Haddock, 43, whose address was given at HMP Maghaberry; David Miller, 40, from Uprichard Court Bangor; Alexander Thomas Wood, 35, of Milewater Way Newtownabbey; John Bond, 45 of Essex Court, Carrickfergus; Darren Stuart Moore, 42, of Mount Vernon Park Belfast; Ronald Trevor Bowe, 35, of Ross House Belfast; Samuel Jason Higgins, 3,6 of The Meadow Antrim; Jason Loughlin, 36, of Bryson Court Newtownabbey, and Philip Laffin, 34, of Bridge Street, Antrim.
They were also cleared of other charges including UVF membership, wounding, possessing guns and hijacking.
The others acquitted of offences including assisting offenders and perverting the course of justice were William Hinds, 47, of Ballycraigy Gardens, Newtownabbey, David Samuel McCrum, 32, of Beechgrove Drive, Newtownabbey, and Mark Thompson, 37, of Ballyvesey Green, Newtownabbey.
In a packed out Court 12 at Belfast’s Laganside, Judge Justice Gillen said that the evidence of brothers Robert and Ian Stewart, was so “flawed and unreliable” that the supporting evidence was not compelling enough to satisfy him beyond all reasonable doubt.
He said the brothers - formerly of New Mossley, but who are currently serving time for crimes they have committed - were of “extremely bad character”, whose memories had been subject to the abuses of alcohol and drugs over the years.
He stated that the brothers lied to the police and to the court, not only about why they had come forward, but also about their roles in crimes and in their retelling of events.
He said both colluded at times for their witnesses statements which compromised their independence and he could not rely on either man’s evidence.
Justice Gillen described both Ian and Robert Stewart as “ruthless terrorists who lived on lies”.
And he said he did not think it plausible that they were remorseful for their involvement in the murder of Tommy English in Ballyduff in 2000, when they continued on with criminal acts after the event.
He said: “They were the same men in different suits.
“At worst, they falsely embellished or, at best, wildly confused the roles and words of those whom they alleged were present, have clear difficulties distinguishing one crime scene from another and have given evidence which is flatly contradicted by unchallenged independent evidence throughout the process.
“These are witnesses of very bad character who have lied to the police and to the court.
“And they may have wrongly implicated a number of innocent men.”
Justice Gillen praised the “courage, determination and dedication” shown of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigators and said he was “in no doubt” that the police were determined to bring English’s killers to justice.
The judgement was met with applause from the public gallery and outside the court there was scenes of joy as the men embraced each other and family members.
PUP representative Ken Wilkinson, speaking outside the court branded the proceedings a “show trial” and questioned why the Public Prosecution Service relied so heavily on the Stewart brothers.
A representative of Families Against Supergrass Trials said it was “regrettable” the proceedings had come to court in the first place.
The trial began in September and was based largely around the evidence of Robert and Ian Stewart.
They admitted UVF membership, and have already served more than three years for their part in the murder of Mr English on Halloween night 2000.
The UDA man was shot dead in front of his wife and children at his home in the Ballyduff estate at the height of a loyalist feud between the UVF and UDA.