The problem with uncorroborated evidence (and supergrass trials)

So the modern day Supergrass trial ends in farce and the two key witnesses being excoriated by Justice Gillen for evidence that was “infected with lies”. The one man found guilty was:

36-year-old Neil Pollockfrom Fortwilliam Gardens in Belfast – was found guilty of possession of a sledgehammer intended for use in terrorism and intending to pervert justice.

  • iluvni

    How much did this latest farce cost us all?

  • quality

    From the BBC

    “The trial, which ended last month after 71 days, was one of the longest and most expensive in Northern Ireland’s legal history.”

    God knows how much that is.

    Hopefully they latch onto cost vs. convictions issue up at the Assembly. At the risk of going on topic, I’m sure if the defendants belonged to a slightly different paramilitary organisation than Messers Campbell and Alastair would be frothing at the mouth to get those questions into David Ford.

  • quality

    *Allister* apologies

  • cynic2

    You cant blame PSNI and the PPS for trying – but with these witnesses? Was it sensible?

    And to what extent was this pushed on to try and pin Haddock because of his notoriety?

    PSNI seem to be in the position that if they were ever objective and said there was not enough evidence in a case like this they would be branded as colluders and cover ups. Then when they do try to prosecute and fail they are just incompetents – so I suppose in their position I would be happier with the incompetent tag

  • Neil

    Then when they do try to prosecute and fail they are just incompetents – so I suppose in their position I would be happier with the incompetent tag

    PPS all the way in this instance. It’s up to them to decide whether or not to allow someone to have an offer put to them in return for their evidence. But supergrass trials are a laughing point everywhere now. Why would anyone expect a lying scumbag to tell the truth in a witness box, further why would the PPS expect a judge or 12 citizens to believe such a person.

  • Dec

    ‘You cant blame PSNI and the PPS for trying ‘


    You can most certainly blame the PPS – how else are they to be evaluated as an organisation? It was patently obvious from the first time the Stewarts opened their mouths in court that this case was doomed. And that’s before we were presented with the police interviews that were littered with inconsistencies and retractions. I mean, how often does the PPS have to cock up in such a monumental fashion before somebody is made accountable?

  • It’s beyond farce. It really is inexcusable and disgraceful that this trial should have been held. As Dec says It was patently obvious from the first time the Stewarts opened their mouths in court that this case was doomed. Someone, whoever decided to proceed, should be hauled over the coals.

  • galloglaigh

    The PPS have failed in this instance. As they did in the Colin Duffy case. Is the PPS protecting informants? Are they fit for purpose?

    That’s the questions that Campbell and Allister should be asking.

    What a waste of public funds! If the PSNI want to be seen to be doing a proper job in eradicating such people (or organisations), they should take a leaf out of Giuliani’s book and spend the money on surveillance. Instead, the British government rely on MI5 to do this work. We all know MI5’s history in this state. Things will never change, until the protagonists of the past change (or go away).

  • It’s worth remembering that one of the key aspects in a Diplock court is that the judge has to spend a lot of time justifying his opinion. A guilty verdict is likely to be pored over in the greatest detail by the Court of Appeal, so the judge has to be absolutely convinced that all the prosecution witnesses are telling the truth.

    If the judge is any any doubt whatsoever as to their reliability, and having criminal records listing long histories of theft and other dishonesty offences is likely to lead them to that conclusion in the absence of independent corroborating evidence, the defendants are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

    For all those reasons, the diplock courts, when they operate properly, which I will recognise has not always been the case, should require a higher standard of proof than a conventional jury crown court.

    The Stewarts might have been telling the truth, and perhaps a jury would have believed them, but we will never know – at least not until substantive evidence is found that could lead to a fair conviction.

  • Nothing wrong with ‘Queen’s Evidence’ but it has to be credible and freely given – not a get out of jail free card. PPS really have to answer for this debacle. Was the judge the first to provide a character assessment of the two witnesses?

  • tacapall

    This trial was a farce from the start everyone else except it seems the PPS knew it. Why was Naula O’Loan or her report on the activities of the Mount Vernon UVF not brought as evidence, why were these special branch officers not brought before the courts.

    Feared UVF gang murdered while protected by police

    The report – set to have serious political implications – will be unveiled at a Belfast hotel tomorrow morning and is the biggest probe undertaken by Mrs O’Loan’s investigators.

    A senior security source last night told how the gang’s terrorist crimes had “shocked” the 12 investigators who produced the explosive report.

    Said the source: “When the investigators looked at Haddock and how he was handled by police, it led them to a series of terrorist incidents.

    “This investigation also looked at a number of people inside the UVF’s Mount Vernon unit and their links to the police. There were hundreds of pages of evidence and intelligence.

    “They have discovered that Haddock and his colleagues committed a series of terrorist offences while they were being protected by police.

  • Mark

    It stinks to high heaven and as time goes by it seems it would be the intelligence services that would have the most to worry about should a truth / recon process ever take place .

    You couldn’t have picked two worse witnesses than those two planks . Were they not briefed in the run up to the trial . How could the PPS let thses guys before a judge ?

  • DC

    So, as it turns out the only thing criminal is the legal bill.

  • Seems to me that the whole problem with the so-called Justice System in the North is that for way too long has allowed a single Judge to decide the fate of so many thousands of people…

    A disgraceful system that corrupts everyone who comes into contact with it…..

    The same system that has allowed RUC and British Army murderers free to kill again, arm and direct Loyalist Thugs…

    The Special Branch and British Military Intelligence need taken through the Courts for War Crimes…However, they will be protected by the British State because their victims were Irish citizens!

  • Skinner

    ArdEoin Republican – it seems to me that you are using this thread to make a very general complaint about Diplock courts without any support from the subject-matter of the thread. The fact is a jury would have been more likely to convict in this case. And, as it happens, in the Colin Duffy case, though I don’t recall you making any such complaint then. So it seems your view of Diplock courts depends entirely on whether your side got off or one of themuns got off. Pathetic.

  • Dec


    That one runs both ways. For example, Quincey Dougan’s outrage is noticeably absent from Slugger this week while the twittersphere and PSNI Facebook pages are curiously devoid of half-baked death-threats.

  • tacapall

    How were these loyalists found not guilty when this evidence was available to the courts why is there no public inquiry into the activities of these Loyalists and their RUC Special Branch handlers and those senior RUC officers who directed and protected and paid these people to Murder.

    Murdered while police turned a blind eye: The truth about the Troubles

    The Troubles may be over, but new horrors continue to emerge from Northern Ireland’s dark past. And none is more shocking than the revelation that police let known UVF members get away with brutal murders. David McKittrick tells the story of Sharon McKenna, a Belfast taxi driver gunned down for performing an act of kindness

    Haddock, referred to in the report as Informant 1, was at that point an informer for the CID and the Special Branch. In what seems an incredibly trusting move on the morning after the McKenna killing, Haddock told a CID officer he was one of the two gunmen involved.

    Quite apart from this admission, Special Branch recorded other information showing Haddock was involved, along with others. This intelligence meant he had to be questioned about the murder, so he was detained.

    He was interviewed 37 times over a six-day period, but made no admissions. Those questioning him were aware that he was an informant and knew he would say nothing: one detective said he “felt like a gooseberry” sitting in on the futile question sessions.

    In fact, one of the detectives interrogating Haddock was actually his CID handler, another officer feeling he was “just going through the motions”. The O’Loan report concluded: “These interviews were a sham.”

    For some reason, Mark Haddock was given a pay rise after Sharon McKenna was shot. He had been earning £100 a week, but soon after the killing this rose to £160. Over the course of a decade he made £80,000, before ceasing to be an informer in 2003.

    It is not clear what he did for such payments – or whether he was paid even more, for some monies were never recorded or had been destroyed. On one occasion he was paid £10,000, but as Mrs O’Loan said, “nothing is known about why this payment was made, how, or who authorised it.” There is no indication that he regularly produced life-saving intelligence.

    Haddock’s activities were clear to his handlers, the sergeants and constables, but the entire system, in her opinion, could not have operated without “the knowledge and support” of the highest levels of the police.

  • lamhdearg2

    Its just as well they where released, had they been found guilty, we would have been out millions in legal fees as appeal after appeal went through the system,only to see most of them released and receive compensation. The Stewarts have played a blinder.

  • Skinner, whether U like it not my post above is as equally right as what yours or anyone else’s is…

    The point about Diplock Courts has everything to do with the entire corrupt system in the Six Counties..Whether it’s Republicans or Loyalists who face these so-called courts…How can anyone have any confidence in a system that isn’t even based on the rights of the individual..Likewise, the State using liars to ‘prove’ a case against countless people is a joke …another link in the chain of corruption that not only goes to the heart of Government but the entire apparatus of the State….

    If a Jury hadv’e been included in this or other Show-Trials..They would have aquitted the Defendants on the very first day! Who could possibly stand over such an unjust showpiece – only those who are well-corrupted already chara!

    What needs to happen is that the entire unjust system is brought down and a new one created akin to international standards…If not it will always be corrupted and unjust….

  • Reader

    tacapall: How were these loyalists found not guilty when this evidence was available to the courts…
    Did you paste the wrong stuff? None of what you posted is relevant to the murder trial that has just finished. And because of that, I doubt that it “was available to the courts”

  • Likewise, the State using liars to ‘prove’ a case against countless people is a joke..

    ArdEoin Republican,

    Did you miss the bit about these defendants being acquitted?

  • fordprefect

    I remember the “super grass” “paid perjurer” “trials” in the 80’s, what a joke! (not for those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the dock though!). Then, so-called judges “reminded themselves” (I kid you not), not to be influenced by anything they read in the papers or had heard about the defendants. I remember one case in particular in the Harry Kirkpatrick case where Kirkpatrick insisted that one of the defendants was involved in a shooting (or something like that), it was then proved beyond all doubt that the individual he insisted was involved in it, was in fact, in jail when it happened, and he still went down! I don’t care whether it’s Republicans or Loyalists, this farce, tactic or whatever you want to call it, should not be used, full stop! Remember this carry on could be used by vindictive individuals to frame someone they have a grudge against etc.

  • fordprefect

    As a matter of fact, some of these so-called trials were like Monty Python sketches!

  • tacapall

    Reader I think my point is well made !

  • fordprefect

    Better still, why weren’t the Branch men and women who were running agents in Mount Vernon and egging them on to kill people and so on, not in the dock?

  • fordprefect,

    Probably for the same reason that some people now in high positions are also not in the dock. You can figure it out.

  • cynic2

    “How can anyone have any confidence in a system that isn’t even based on the rights of the individual.”

    Yes but in may of these cases there are two sets of rights – the defendants and those they have killed / would kill

    “why weren’t the Branch men and women who were running agents in Mount Vernon and egging them on to kill people and so on, not in the dock?”

    Presumably lack of evidence …or are you suggesting that the DPP is biased?

  • fordprefect

    Yes I figured it out all right, I hope you mean Unionist as well as Nationalists that are now in high positions.

  • fordprefect

    Yes, I am suggesting that the DPP is biased. Lack of evidence, don’t make me laugh! The proverbial “dogs” knew what was going on. The actual “head” or “commanding officer” or whatever they call themselves, in the Mount Vernon crew (among others), were the Special Branch men/women handling them, not Haddock or the rest of them that were on “trial”. In fact, I’ll go one further, in that, some of the “defendants” probably told the Branch that if they were “convicted” that they would open a can of worms on the Branch and their dirty dealings that they wouldn’t so easily put the lid back on as they had in other cases. I know the proverbial “dogs” doesn’t constitute evidence per se, but you can’t tell me that people higher up didn’t know what was going on. I apply that logic to Republicans as well. I, to this day still feel that “super grass” “paid perjurer” “trials” are wrong, whether they be directed towards Loyalists or Republicans.