Alleged loyalist gunman released on bail

Eamon Fox
Eamon Fox

The alleged gunman in a double loyalist murder of two Catholic workmen 20 years ago has been released on bail, a High Court judge has ruled.

Prosecutors opposed James Smyth’s application for bail over claims of an ongoing campaign of intimidation against the family of a key witness.

Gary Convie

Gary Convie

However, Mr Justice Weir decided the 48-year-old should be released after being told a co-accused is no longer in custody.

Smyth, from Forthriver Link, Belfast, has been charged with the murders of Gary Convie and Eamon Fox in the north of the city in May 1994.

He was detained by detectives investigating a campaign of murder and serious crime committed by the UVF in north Belfast.

Mr Convie, 24, and 44-year-old Mr Fox, were gunned down as they sat eating lunch in a car at a North Queen Street building site.

Smyth faces further charges of attempting to murder of a third man, Donal Laverty, in the same attack and possessing a submachine gun and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

The court heard a lone gunman fired up to 15 shots into the victims’ Volkswagen Polo from the direction of a nearby children’s playground.

He is alleged to have then shouted “Up the UVF” before fleeing from the scene.

A prosecution barrister said: “Police believe they have evidence that this applicant was the gunman.”

It was claimed that co-accused Mark Campbell drove the getaway van used to take him from the scene.

Campbell, 42, of Canning Place, Belfast, was granted bail earlier this year on the same charges.

According to the prosecution a distinction can be drawn between the two men’s alleged roles.

Mr Justice Weir noted that if convicted, both men may only serve two years in prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He stressed that this had nothing to do with the judiciary - a point he said the press and local politicians were “not so good at picking up,” he said.

Although the identity of a key prosecution witness in the case was not disclosed during the hearing, lawyers for Smyth previously claimed information has been supplied by loyalist supergrass Gary Haggarty.

He is understood to be living at a secret location outside Northern Ireland.

“There’s an ongoing campaign of intimidation against the family members of this significant witness,” the prosecution barrister added.

However, Mr Justice Weir held that Smyth should be granted bail on condition that his daughter lodges a £2,000 cash surety.

The accused will be subject to a curfew, electronically tagged and must report to police four times a week.

Smyth was further banned from contacting any prosecution witnesses or their family, his co-accused, or any loyalist paramilitaries.