A former loyalist paramilitary chief turned police informer has been sentenced to six and a half years in prison for 202 terror offences before he can be considered for release.

Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) chief Gary Haggarty, 46, pleaded guilty to five murders as his part of a controversial state deal that offered a significantly-reduced prison term in return for giving evidence against other terrorist suspects.

One individual is to be prosecuted over a murder using his evidence.

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Keiran Fox (son of Eamon Fox, left), solicitor Padraig O'Muirigh (2nd left) Raymond McCord Snr (father of Raymond McCord Jnr 3rd left), SDLP MLA John Dallat (2nd right) and Joe Convie (father of Gary Convie, right) arriving at Laganside courts in BelfasKeiran Fox (son of Eamon Fox, left), solicitor Padraig O’Muirigh (2nd left) Raymond McCord Snr (father of Raymond McCord Jnr 3rd left), SDLP MLA John Dallat (2nd right) and Joe Convie (father of Gary Convie, right) arriving at Laganside courts in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Judge Mr Justice Adrian Colton said Haggarty’s was a case of “exceptional gravity”.

“The fact he was involved directly in multiple terrorist murders must be an aggravating factor.

“He has been involved in a terrorist campaign over a 16-year period that campaign has resulted in deaths for which he was directly responsible.

“The organisation he supported and assisted has resulted in untold damage to individual lives and society as a whole.”

Such evidence provided a check against the belief that these people are “untouchable” and major criminals may otherwise escape justice, the judge said.

He acknowledged those who become informers face torture and execution if caught.

He said Haggarty’s was not a Road to Damascus conversion, rather one motivated by self-interest, but said he had given “substantial” assistance to prosecutors.