Socialist Worker

The murder of Sean McParland—Loyalist death squads were run by the British state

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2585

The British state is gulty

The British state is gulty (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

Sean McParland died after being shot while babysitting in Belfast in 1994.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a pro-British paramilitary organisation, were going to decide who would be the killer by flipping a coin. But Gary Haggarty volunteered to be the “primary gunman” because he feared he was suspected of being a police agent.

The intended target was in fact a relative of Sean McParland.

Haggarty was working as a paid Special Branch agent when he pulled the trigger.

He tried to shoot five more bullets but the gun jammed.

He was promoted in the UVF after the shooting. The Loyalist had been sworn into the UVF in 1991, and became a Special Branch agent two years later.

He turned informer to save his own skin after being arrested for the murder of Sharon McKenna, shot dead by the UVF in January 1993 as she called on an elderly Protestant friend.


A court heard two days of evidence summing up the murderous rampage of Haggarty this week.

The names of his victims were read out, the cold and callous way they were targeted and killed detailed.

The court heard accounts of drunken binges to celebrate kicking a man to death.

As well as pleading guilty to 202 crimes, Haggarty asked that 301 others be taken into consideration.

These included five murders, five attempted murders, 25 conspiracies to murder, 66 charges of possession of firearms and ammunition, and four counts of directing terrorism.

In addition to the killing of Sean McParland, he also admitted murdering:

  • John Harbinson, a Protestant handcuffed and beaten to death by a UVF gang on the Mount Vernon estate in north Belfast in May 1997. His son left the court shortly after the extent of his injuries were read out.
  • Catholic workmen Eamon Fox and Gary Convie shot dead as they had lunch together in a car in Belfast in May 1994
  • Sean McDermott, a Catholic found shot dead in his car near Antrim in August 1994.

Haggarty faces mandatory life sentences for the murders he has admitted. But he will also receive a significant reduction in his sentence in return for being an “assisting offender”. Assisting offender is the cops’ name for informer.

His barrister argued that while his client was automatically entitled to a reduction for turning state's witness in 2010 he should also be given credit for assisting Special Branch since becoming an RUC agent in 1993.

He probably won’t have any time left to serve and will live in a witness protection programme.

The brutal sectarianism of the Loyalist death squads is damning.

But the evidence of the state’s role is as damming as the charge sheet against Haggarty.

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Haggarty was in police custody at the time Raymond McCord’s 1997 murder was being planned and he phoned Special Branch on his own mobile and the jail payphone.

“The defendant told Special Branch of the plot to kill Mr McCord,” the lawyer O'Rourke told judge Justice Colton.

The killing was not prevented.

Haggarty informed Special Branch of his gang’s intention to shoot a taxi driver in Antrim on June 17 1994.

A few hours later Catholic taxi driver Gerard Brady was shot dead.

Haggarty asked his handlers after the murder to ask why it had not been stopped.

“He was told they had followed the vehicle but they had lost them,” said O'Rourke.

Earlier Haggarty gave Special Branch officers a copy of a key to a block of flats in Mount Vernon that contained a Loyalist arms dump. Special Branch did not seize them. One of the guns was later used to kill Sean Brady.

The sectarian thugs of the Mount Vernon UVF that Haggarty was a leader of were full of informers.

Haggarty was part of planning a murder attempt on another leading UVF member who was also a police informer.

His guilty plea means a lot of information on the state’s role won’t be put on the public record.

The court heard accounts of drunken binges to celebrate kicking a man to death

Even today not much is being done with Haggarty’s information. Prosecutors said Haggarty's evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against 11 other suspected UVF members and two former police intelligence officers.

Special Branch urged him to keep quiet when arrested in the immediate aftermath of the sectarian shooting of Sean McParland.

"His handlers told him he should refuse to answer questions,” said O'Rourke.

When Haggarty burst in and shot McParland in 1994 three of his young grandchildren ran out into the street screaming.

His daughter Sinead Monaghan was one of a number of victims' relatives at the court.

She said action should be taken against other Loyalists and Special Branch officers.

“Those other people remain at large and we haven't received the answers we deserve yet,” she said.

She said Haggarty was able to kill with impunity. “To me he got a free hand," she said. “He could do whatever he wanted to whoever he wanted and nothing was going to be done about it.”


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