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Anger as bailed terror suspects join forces at dissident protest

By Deborah McAleese

Published 13/09/2016

Damien McLaughlin and Christopher Robinson (right)
Damien McLaughlin and Christopher Robinson (right)

Concern continues to grow over Northern Ireland's bail policy as terror suspects implicated in two separate prison officer murders were free to associate with each other at a dissident republican rally, it can be revealed.

Damien McLaughlin, who is charged in connection with the murder of David Black, and Christopher Robinson, who is accused of Adrian Ismay's murder, were pictured together at an anti-internment protest outside a west Belfast police station last week.

Both suspects are on court bail.

Although conditions are attached to their bail, including curfews, there is nothing to prevent them from associating with other terror suspects or convicted terrorists.

It can also be revealed police officers have been told not to conduct bail checks on Robinson, who has been returned to court three times for breach of bail.

An email was issued to officers in Belfast from a police sergeant advising them not to call at Robinson's house at Aspen Park in Dunmurry. The email stated that as Robinson had been fitted with an electronic tag, the security firm G4S could monitor his movements.

The PSNI defended the move saying there was no reason for police to duplicate the work of the security firm.

A PSNI spokesman said: "The PSNI has a duty to keep people safe and ensure offenders are brought to justice. This means we will rigorously enforce all bail conditions set down by the courts.

"If a person is required to wear an electronic tag as part of their bail conditions, there is no reason for police to duplicate this monitoring unless otherwise requested or directed by the investigating officer or senior police officer or the court."

The spokesman added: "Police will continue to rigorously, but impartially, enforce all bail conditions set by the courts and we will not hesitate to arrest those who breach their bail conditions so they can be brought back before the court to ensure that the court has all the necessary information to allow it to decide if continuing bail is appropriate or to remand in custody, if necessary."

In May, Robinson was arrested for breaching his bail conditions when he failed to respond to a police check at his home. The following day he was arrested for tampering with his electronic tag.

Last month he was arrested again for failing to report to police on time to sign his bail. He claimed he had fallen asleep and was released on court bail.

A legal source close to the case said: "He's a terror suspect. Police should be breathing down his neck every few hours. Bail is a privilege not a right."

Robinson, who is accused of killing prison officer Adrian Ismay in March, joined McLaughlin at an anti-internment rally organised by Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) outside Woodbourne Police Station on Thursday.

Last month McLaughlin was granted permission by a court to skip his curfew and stop signing bail for three days while enjoying a mini break at a luxury lakeside hotel in Co Fermanagh, as revealed by the Belfast Telegraph.

On the first day of his relaxed bail conditions, McLaughlin was photographed fronting another republican anti-internment protest in west Belfast, alongside convicted terrorists Sharon Rafferty and Conor Casey. He was also joined at that protest by Brian Shivers who was acquitted after retrial two years ago of the murder of two soldiers and six attempted murders at Massereene barracks.

McLaughlin, from the Kilmascally Road in Dungannon, is facing four charges in relation to prison officer David Black's killing. Mr Black was shot dead on the M1 in Co Armagh in November 2012 en route to work at the high security Maghaberry Prison.

Charges against McLaughlin include aiding and abetting murder, having a Toyota Camry for use in terrorism, preparing a terrorist act by starting and moving the vehicle which the killers used, and belonging to a proscribed organisation, namely the IRA.

The McLaughlin and Robinson bail cases have raised fresh questions over bail policy for terror suspects. Policing Board member Nelson McCausland said the current situation "makes a mockery of the legal system".

The DUP MLA said: "There is a widespread concern about several cases where a very lenient approach is being adopted by the judiciary in setting or amending the bail conditions for people facing serious charges relating to dissident republican terrorism.

"This lenient approach fails to take account of the seriousness of the offences and the threat posed by dissident republicans.

"At a time when these republican organisations are intent on murdering police officers and prison officers, most people find these decisions incomprehensible."

He added: "The PSNI and other services devote a lot of time and manpower to apprehend those suspected of terrorism and the seriousness of the offences demands more stringent bail conditions. I am appalled when I see reports of some of those who have been charged being out on bail and turning up at republican rallies in support of alleged republican terrorists.

"This situation makes a mockery of the legal system and must come to an end. It is time for the judiciary to rethink their approach."

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