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Anguish as suspect linked to murder of warder David Black goes missing before trial

By Cate McCurry

The son of a murdered prison officer said his family feels betrayed by the justice system he served after it emerged that a dissident republican charged in connection with his killing has not been seen since November.

Damien Joseph McLaughlin is due to stand trial next month on terror charges, including supplying a car to dissident republicans who gunned down David Black as he drove along the M1 to work, in November 2012.

McLaughlin (40), from Kilmascally Road in Dungannon, spent time on remand, but was granted bail in May 2014.

On Friday it emerged that the accused was not living at his bail address in west Belfast and had failed to report to police in November as part of his bail conditions. Mr Black's son, Kyle accused the justice system of failing his family and his father.

"The family is feeling very let down and betrayed by the justice system in how it has handled Damien McLaughlin's case so far," he said.

"Dad was a part of that justice system which is letting him down. We only found that he (McLaughlin) was missing about 12 hours before it was said in court. We found that very disheartening.

"The whole process has been very disheartening as to how the justice system seems to have dealt with it."

Mr Black (52) was shot dead as he drove to work at Maghaberry Prison. The Cookstown man was ambushed between Portadown and Lurgan.

On Friday, a judge revoked McLaughlin's bail after a Crown prosecutor revealed that it was not clear whether or not he had absconded ahead of his trial. Kyle Black told the Belfast Telegraph that his family have been "mentally preparing" themselves for the trial.

"We are left on edge over this because for the last four years we have known there will be a trial but we were left not knowing when that is going to be and that's been quite difficult. Then when we did get a date and things were beginning to proceed, we started to prepare for that mentally. But now that there is a possibility that might not happen, it's another blow to us.

"It's been very difficult for us after my dad's death. We try and take each day as it comes and our driving force is to try and do him proud and not let the people who committed this crime ruin anymore lives than what they already have," Kyle explained.

In August last year, it emerged that McLaughlin had his bail conditions relaxed so he could take a spa break in the Co Fermanagh lakelands.

He was given permission by a court to skip his curfew and stop signing bail for three days while enjoying the short break.

On the first day of his relaxed bail conditions, he was pictured at a republican anti-internment protest in west Belfast. Kyle described the court decision to relax the accused's bail conditions as "laughable".

DUP MLA Maurice Morrow hit out at the police for its handling of the terror suspect. The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA described the process of monitoring McLaughlin as "farcical". He said he has written to Chief Constable George Hamilton demanding an explanation for how the PSNI "lost" the accused.

"If it were not for the elongated judicial system in Northern Ireland there is every likelihood 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," he said.

"When the first occasion was missed, immediate action should have been taken.

"It is disgraceful to learn PSNI have effectively lost this man since November, yet it would appear they did not seek an arrest warrant. This should have been brought to the attention of the first available court. Instead it appears police went into tailspin in trying to find McLaughlin.

"Had the alarm been raised earlier, instead of waiting for the next scheduled court appearance, detection and detention could have been possible," Lord Morrow added.

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United, said: "If he is in this jurisdiction or the Republic of Ireland then he needs captured and fast. And if he is outside of this island then he must also be located, extradited and imprisoned without delay."

A spokeswoman for the PSNI said: "We have nothing further to add than what has been disclosed at court on Friday."

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