‘Too many questions remain unanswered in the case of Ardboe terrorist suspect'

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

DUNGANNON Peer Lord Morrow has said too many questions remain unanswered in the case of terrorist suspect Damien McLaughlin, following his disappearance whilst awaiting trial on charges connected the murder of Cookstown Prison Officer David Black.

And a number of details have been revealed about exactly how Police "lost an Ardboe man on bail for terrorism charges".

There is now an International Arrest Warrant in force for Damien McLaughlin but, according to answers provided to the Policing Board by the PSNI, officers were originally thwarted by a dodgy doorbell.

It also appears that despite McLaughlin, 40, having serious recent paramilitary convictions and being the only person still facing charges in relation to the murder of Cookstown Prison Officer David Black in November 2012, the PSNI didn't even have a telephone number for him.

McLaughlin, from Kilmascully Road, denies four charges linked to the Black shooting, including aiding and abetting murder, and was required to sign bail five times a week.

Chief Constable George Hamilton admitted that they had no contact with McLaughlin since he last signed bail on 18th November, 2016.

When officers attended his address two days later for a bail check, they noted his car outside but were unable to confirm a breach of bail conditions "due to the faulty buzzer system".

They raised this with the Public Prosecution Service on 21st November and on 22nd November they notified his legal representatives in writing about the faulty buzzer as well as "requesting a telephone number be provided by Mr McLaughlin until the buzzer was fixed".

Mr Hamilton noted that his legal representatives failed to respond and on 25th November, the issue was raised in court but was "not resolved and no further comments or directions were made by the judge."

He added that there was a "breakdown in the monitoring of the bail from then until entry was gained to the flat on 23rd December when it was discovered it had been empty "for some time".

However it was not until 6th January that his bail was revoked in court and his disappearance became public.

Meanwhile, Lord Morrow has said too many questions remain unanswered in the case.

Stated the DUP Peer: "I submitted numerous questions to the Minister for Justice and wrote to the Chief Constable, The Law Society and The Bar Council in respect of this disturbing incident.

“The Chief Constable has acknowledged my letter and the questions therein, but to date has not responded substantively.

“In respect of The Law Society, I enquired if the solicitors acting for McLaughlin had notified the court of a potentially absconding client, as per the expectations as officers of the court.

“I attached a relevant answer from the Minister for Justice on this specific point. The reply bore no resemblance to the question whatsoever, instead directing me to NI Court Service, which was unnecessary as I had all information relevant to that agency's input, and as such formed no part of my enquiry.

"I have replied in the hope of a proper response from The Law Society to the matter at hand.

"My enquiries with The Law Society have become more relevant as it has now been established PSNI contacted McLaughlin's lawyers seeking a contact number. According to the Chief Constable, the firm in question failed to respond."

Continued the Peer: "This must be examined to ascertain if this is conducive to expectations of officers of the court.

"The Bar Counsel replied advising barristers are dependent on being kept informed by their instructing solicitors. That of course places the matter back with The Law Society for clarification as to whether the solicitors acted as expected as officers of the court.

"Overall however this matter was grossly mishandled by the PSNI who should have jumped at the first indication of a breach in bail terms. This is after all a terrorism case in which Mr Black was murdered whilst on his way to work. As the only person to date charged in connection to that murder, PSNI should have been ultra-alert to the necessity of ensuring McLaughlin faced the courts.

"There was far too much laxity afforded in this instance by police and that has severely impacted upon the overall case of the brutal murder of Mr Black, and his family who whilst consumed with grief are failed in such a dramatic manner by authorities."

He continued: "This whole incident requires a thorough investigation into all facets involved in what is without doubt a deplorable situation, including police, judiciary, and legal representatives and their governing bodies.

"I will continue to demand answers and will not be silenced by curt replies of being unable to discuss.

"Of course, this is relevant mostly if McLaughlin has absconded. What if as I have already alluded to, he has been disappeared?

"I remain disgusted as to Sinn Fein's conspicuous silence on this matter. Their stance almost without precedent and in stark contrast to their condemnation of other similar instances, amid calls for the allowance of due process and innocence until proven guilty.

"It is however notable Sinn Fein have always been remarkably quiet over issues around the disappeared and the arbitrary matter in which such victims were summarily dispatched and hidden.

Concluded Lord Morrow: "Even during an Assembly debate on bail issues for persons accused of terrorism offences, Sinn Fein were the only speakers who sidestepped the issue of McLaughlin and instead lectured human rights. Even when directly challenged in the chamber, they sat stone-faced and silent.

"Whatever their position, rightminded citizens are calling for anyone with information on McLaughlin's whereabouts, to come forward."



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