Supergrasses: A Study in Anti-Terrorist Law Enforcement in Northern Ireland

Supergrasses: A Study in Anti-Terrorist Law Enforcement in Northern Ireland

Supergrasses: A Study in Anti-Terrorist Law Enforcement in Northern Ireland

Supergrasses: A Study in Anti-Terrorist Law Enforcement in Northern Ireland

Synopsis

In the first half of the 1980s a series of high profile and deeply controversial trials, some larger than any criminal proceedings hitherto seen in Ireland or the UK, took place in Northern Ireland on the evidence of "supergrasses" prepared to betray large numbers of their alleged accomplices in return for various rewards. This major scholarly study, which for the first time discusses supergrass trials in a broad criminological, historical, legal, and comparative context, will make a timely and enduring contribution to debates about security policy and anti-terrorist law enforcement in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Excerpt

In the first half of the 1980s a succession of high-profile and deeply controversial trials took place in Northern Ireland on the evidence of 'supergrasses' from loyalist and republican paramilitary organizations prepared to betray large numbers of their alleged former comrades-in-arms in return for immunity from prosecution, or lenient sentences, and new lives under new identities outside Northern Ireland. Some observers claimed that these proceedings, some of which involved more defendants than any other single trial in the history of British or Irish criminal justice, offered the first genuine opportunity to convict the 'godfathers of terrorism', the leadership of the various paramilitary factions, who had long evaded successful prosecution. Others warned that reliance upon such inherently untrustworthy evidence could seriously damage public confidence in the legal system, particularly since the special anti-terrorist 'Diplock' process had already suffered the removal of certain key due-process safeguards.

The Northern Ireland supergrass system, the effects of which spread far beyond those accused in the ten central trials, began hesitantly, experienced a brief ascendancy in 1983, and then suffered a lingering decline and fall, the bulk of the convictions eventually being quashed on appeal. However, although dead and buried, its ghost still haunts the Diplock process, in the form either of periodic rumours that a new supergrass has been recruited or of speculation, as in the autumn of 1993, that a return to such trials is under active official consideration. The central purpose of this study, pursued in Chapters 2-9, is to seek to trace the origins of the Ulster supergrass system in the context of security policy and intelligence-gathering since 1969, to chart its chequered career, and to consider its legacy. Chapter 1 compares and contrasts the role of the supergrass with that of various other kinds of police informant, Chapter 10 considers processes similar to the supergrass system in England, the United States, and several western European countries, while the concluding chapter summarizes the contribution of criminal justice agencies in the management of the supergrass system in Northern . . .

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