Man jailed for town pub fire in bid to have conviction quashed

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A man jailed over an attack on a Portadown bar during a loyalist feud is to claim he was entrapped by a police agent accomplice in a bid to have his conviction quashed.

Lawyers for John Patterson Hill allege one-time Ulster Volunteer Force commander Garry Haggarty’s role as an informer wrongly remained undisclosed at their trial for smashing up and setting fire to the Golden Hind pub nearly 20 years ago.

Solicitor John Greer said, “This may be a case of state-created crime.”

The August 1997 attack, linked to a bitter dispute between the UVF and rival Loyalist Volunteer Force, led to 12 men being prosecuted.

Hill, a 45-year-old from north Belfast, served a three-year sentence after being found guilty of arson and other offences.

But he is now seeking to overturn his convictions based on the alleged involvement of registered informants in the case.

Judges in the Court of Appeal today (Friday) listed the case for full hearing in June.

Haggarty (44), is currently awaiting trial for a catalogue of murders and paramilitary crime spanning a 16-year period from 1991 to 2007.

The so-called loyalist supergrass faces a record 202 charges - including five terrorist killings.

Originally from north Belfast but now living at a secret location in England, he signed an agreement to become an assisting offender under the terms of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) in 2010.

However, Hill’s legal representatives believe he was working as an informant when the Golden Hind was targeted.

They allege that he played a prominent role in instigating, directing and ordering the attack, and inciting others to do so.

A judge has already granted leave to pursue an appeal against conviction on the basis that an arguable case has been established.

Transcripts from the original trial are now to be provided to the defence team as they seek to demonstrate information about the involvement of an agent should have been revealed.

Fixing the appeal hearing to ensure no delay, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan insisted, “It’s not an indicative listing, it’s a final listing.”

Outside court Mr Greer, of Reavey Solicitors, said, “It is not known at this stage whether the authorities can provide an innocent explanation for the non-disclosure of the relevant material, or whether the material was knowingly and wilfully withheld from the defence.”

He stressed that an investigation by former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan concluded that the pub attack was due to collusion.

“In this case it remains to be seen whether there was also collusion to entrap and imprison members of the loyalist community and deny them their right to a fair trial.”