Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Terror ambush victim David Black was nearing retirement from prison service

The scene of the murder of a prison officer on the M1 in Northern Ireland
The scene of the murder of a prison officer on the M1 in Northern Ireland

The prison officer killed in a Northern Ireland motorway ambush this morning has been named as Co Tyrone man David Black.

Mr Black, from Cookstown, had served for more than 30 years in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

The man is the 30th prison officer killed in Northern Ireland since 1974.

The shooting happened at around 7.30am, at the same time as a major security alert further along the motorway at a shopping centre at Sprucefield, near Lisburn, where bomb disposal experts were called in to check a car.

He was ambushed by a gunman on the M1 motorway as he drove to begin duty at the top security Maghaberry jail near Lisburn, Co Antrim.

Politicians on all sides condemned the murder and, even though no organisation has admitted responsibility, security chiefs believe republicans opposed to the peace process were involved.

The extremists have been involved in long-running protests against jail conditions inside Maghaberry.

Paul Girvan, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said the man was on his way to begin duty at the top-security Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, Co Antrim, where dissident republicans have been involved in long-running protests against jail conditions.

It is believed this vehicle might have been linked in some way to the shooting, according to some sources.

The DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds told the House: "Today's dastardly news of the murder of a prison officer by terrorists in Northern Ireland reminds the entire House that the battle against terrorism and for democracy and for freedom still continues in Northern Ireland."

North Antrim's DUP MP Ian Paisley called for Ms Villiers to make a statement to the Commons on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

He said MPs would be "in equal measure saddened and outraged" by the shooting.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Matt Baggott said: "It was a completely senseless attack. It demonstrated the recklessness and ruthlessness and sheer dangerousness of those who oppose peace and are dedicated to taking us back to those dark days of the past.

"This has all the hallmarks of dissident republicans. This was just a brutal attack and we need the public's support to be able to solve it as quickly as possible.

"David was dedicated, a person keeping people safe, and we need to respect that and recognise that."

Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said the gunman was in a Toyota Camry with a Dublin registration which drew alongside Mr Black's black Audi.

"From that car it appears that shots were fired at Mr Black," he said.

"Almost immediately his car veered off the motorway and into a pretty deep drainage ditch.

"Mr Black appears to have sustained very serious and probably fatal gunshot wounds."

Mr Harris added: "The motive behind this is sheer terror."

Mr Black had expressed interest in an early retirement scheme but his departure date had not been set, Prison Service director general Sue McAllister said.

Mrs McAllister said the Prison Service would not be bowed.

"We will not allow this to derail the efforts that we are making to reform the service but we will do everything we can to support all of our staff in the very difficult days ahead," she added.

The chief constable said police had been working closely with the Prison Service over recent weeks and years to make sure staff get the best advice and would be having more conversations following today's attack.

Mr Harris added: "We have been aware that dissident republican groups have been targeting prison officers, they have been a subject of targeting and conspiracy to murder by dissident republican groups."

A car used in the attack was later found burnt-out in Lurgan, Co Armagh, where supporters of dissidents have backed the jail protest campaign.

Mr Black, who was married with a family, was the 30th prison officer killed in Northern Ireland since 1974.

It is understood his service stretched back as far as the 1981 IRA hunger strike inside the Maze prison, when 10 republicans starved themselves to death.

Finlay Spratt, the head of the Prison Officers' Association, knew Mr Black.

"I found him to be a very nice fellow to work with," he said.

"He always ensured he did his job to the letter. He was a very good officer, he certainly did his bit."

Mr Spratt criticised the security provisions offered to prison officers since the Troubles ended.

"They have stripped away all the security around prison officers," he said. "They treat us now as if we live in normal society."

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the murder.

"At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved family and we condemn this murder in the strongest possible terms," they said in a joint statement.

"There can be no justification for this brutal attack as this man was going about his daily life. People who work for the Prison Service play a crucial role in our community and any attack on them is an attack on all of us.

"Actions like this have no place in society and those who carried out this murder have nothing positive to contribute, and we refuse to let the people behind this attack divert us from building a better and peaceful future for everyone.

"We appeal to anyone with any information on this murder to contact the PSNI."

The shooting happened at around 7.30am, at the same time as a major security alert further along the motorway at a shopping centre at Sprucefield, near Lisburn, where bomb disposal experts were called in to check a car.

It is believed this vehicle might have been linked to the shooting, according to some sources.

The dissident protests in Maghaberry have taken place at a time when the NI Prison Service is undergoing a turbulent programme of reform.

Today's incident represents a major blow for recently appointed director general Ms McAllister, 51, from South Yorkshire, who took over the reins in the summer.

Yesterday Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers warned that the threat from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland remained severe.

That came a week after the threat of attack in Great Britain was downgraded to moderate.

The Republic of Ireland's Justice Minister Alan Shatter added his words of condemnation.

"I condemn utterly the brutal and barbaric murder of a member of the Northern Ireland Prison Service this morning," he said.

"I have spoken this morning to the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice, David Ford, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers.

"On my own behalf and on behalf of the Government I expressed our deep sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of the murdered prison officer.

"We acknowledged the very close co-operation which exists between (Irish police) An Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and will fully support their efforts in bringing the perpetrators of this dreadful crime to justice and dealing with the threat posed by anyone behaving in this barbaric fashion."



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