Gary Haggarty sat and listened for almost an hour and a half as the judge explained the sentence he was about to receive, for offences to which he had already pleaded guilty. It took so long because there were so many crimes to be considered: 201 of them, in fact.
They included five murders; five attempted murders; one count of aiding and abetting murder; 23 conspiracies to murder; four kidnappings; six charges of false imprisonment; a handful of arson attacks, including burning down a pub; five hijackings; 66 offences of possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life (the weapons included two Sten submachine guns, an Uzi, 12 Taurus pistols and two AK47s); 10 counts of possession of explosives; 18 of wounding with intent and two charges of aggravated burglary. There was also criminal damage: just the one charge, although this covered the destruction of several houses during a six-month period.
But this was not all. There were also a number of TICs, as they are known in UK courts – offences “taken into consideration”. Offenders are allowed to admit TICs as a way of saving the police and the courts time and money, and they are usually minor additional infractions: when someone pleads guilty to shoplifting on four occasions, for example, they may ask the court to consider two further shoplifting offences as TICs.
On this occasion there were 304 additional offences taken into consideration. They included a number of malicious woundings; possession of an array of firearms, including three Bren light machine guns and a number of assault rifles; extorting money from various takeaway restaurants and a pool hall; making “an unwarranted demand of a quantity of fuel” from a petrol station; burning down said petrol station; unlawful imprisonment; 37 assaults; robbery; car theft; possession of amphetamine and cannabis with intent to supply; and possession of various offensive weapons, such as hatchets, baseball bats and a telescopic baton, while in a public place.
The offences were committed between 24 February 1991 and 1 March 2007: a serious crime committed every couple of days for 16 years.
Among the people sitting in the public gallery were relatives of Haggarty’s victims, and some of the judge’s sentencing remarks must have been almost unbearably painful to hear. Haggarty’s first murder victim was Sean McParland, a 55-year-old who was killed while babysitting his four grandchildren, who were aged between three and nine. The nine-year-old gave a statement to police in which he described an armed man busting into the house. As the man took aim, his grandfather “started to bend down and was flapping his arms”. The bullet hit McParland in the left side of his face and severed his spinal cord before exiting the right side of his neck.
Haggarty had told police that he wanted to say sorry. That killing was a case of mistaken identity: the intended victim was McParland’s son-in-law.
After Haggarty’s sentencing hearing in January, relatives of his victims who had attended the hearing went for a cup of tea at a cafe across the road from the court. Aaron McCone, whose father, John Harbinson, had been among those murdered, was joined by Ciaran Fox, whose father, Eamon, was murdered by Haggarty and others in May 1994, and Paul McKenna, whose sister Sharon was shot by Haggarty’s friend Mark Haddock a year before that.
They were all bitterly disappointed at the heavily discounted sentence, but not in the least surprised. “Nothing in court surprised us, but it’s still very hard to take,” said McCone, trying, and not quite succeeding, to hold back his tears. “He’s a serial killer and he’ll be out after serving a little over three years. That’s not justice.”
“We feel let down by the justice system in this country,” said Fox. “Gary Haggarty was allowed to kill at will. The police knew he was killing at will and they let him continue.