Police handling of Ardboe terror suspect’s bail conditions ‘farcical’ says peer

Damien McLaughlin leaves Laganside Court. Picture Pacemaker Press 16-09-2016
Damien McLaughlin leaves Laganside Court. Picture Pacemaker Press 16-09-2016

The PSNI has been blasted for its monitoring of bail conditions imposed on an Ardboe man being tried in relation to the murder of Cookstown prison officer David Black.

Belfast Crown Court learned on Friday that Damien McLaughlin, who is due to stand trial next month on charges of aiding and abetting Mr Black’s murder, possessing items to be used in terrorism and belonging to an illegal organisation, has not been seen by police since November.

Released from custody in May 2014, the 40-year-old was obligated to sign at a police station five days a week after an amendment to his bail conditions was passed allowing a reduction from seven days, and his tag to be removed. Although it is unclear whether he has absconded, it has emerged he was no longer living at his west Belfast bail address when police visited on December 23.

The prosecution said in court it “appears to have effectively been cleared out”.

A judge has now revoked McLaughlin’s bail.

Demanding answers from both police and the Justice Minister, DUP peer Lord Morrow has blamed Northern Ireland’s “elongated judicial system” saying “McLaughlin’s remand in custody pending trial would not have been longer than was necessary and the issue of bail would never have been visited” had the trial been held more promptly.

He has also questioned why “no arrest warrant was sought and neither the courts or public alerted” by police and dubbed their handling of the case “farcical”.

“The handling of this case, from the granting of bail to the apparent loss of a suspected terrorist is incredulous,” he added.

Also seeking an explanation, Policing Board member, Mid Ulster DUP MLA, Keith Buchanan said: “For the family of Mr Black it must be extremely traumatising to learn that police seem to have no knowledge of the whereabouts of this individual.

“This is not someone accused of a petty crime and he should be treated accordingly.

UUP MLA Sandra Overend added: “I was appalled to learn that the accused in this case has not been seen by the police since November. It is absolutely disgraceful that this man was allowed to disappear while on bail conditions.

“The authorities have serious questions to answer in this case, and I feel that the judicial system needs to rethink the process of how terrorism suspects are managed.

“My thoughts at this time are with the David Black’s family, who have been put into the public eye due to the failings of the judicial system.”

The PSNI has been contacted for comment.