Belfast Telegraph

Bid to try on-the-run terror suspect in his absence 'premature'

By Michael Donnelly

An application to hold a Diplock non-jury terrorist trial without the presence of the defendant - the first of its kind in Northern Ireland's legal history - has been adjourned for being "premature".

The prosecution had initially argued that the trial of Damien Joseph McLaughlin for his alleged involvement in the murder of prison officer David Black should proceed next Monday as planned.

However, the application was adjourned until April to try and find the 40-year-old, who has gone on the run

McLaughlin, from Kilmascally Road, Ardboe, disappeared from his west Belfast bail address at Glenties Drive last November.

Adjourning the application until April 28, Mr Justice Treacy acknowledged that the delay in proceedings had caused distress to Mr Black's family.

However, the judge said that if there were "any developments in the intervening period" the court should be informed before that date.

Earlier prosecution QC Terence Mooney acknowledged concerns that the application to have McLaughlin tried in his absence may be "a bit premature".

Mr Mooney said the prosecution was seeking to have him tried in his absence because McLaughlin had "deliberately absconded himself from the jurisdiction... in the full knowledge that he was to stand trial".

However, in the circumstance he agreed that "a period of time may be necessary to see if McLaughlin can be located or if he voluntarily returns" and the trial then proceeds.

The prosecution lawyer said that McLaughlin "is being actively sought" by police and all other relevant agencies, "but, unfortunately, my instructions are there is still no trace of his whereabouts".

Mr Mooney said while he accepted that the application be adjourned for the present, he would "very much resist an open-ended adjournment", as being sought as the defence's primary argument.

Defence barrister Desmond Hutton told Mr Justice Treacy this was the defence "fall-back position", and that the prosecution application was "premature" and should be adjourned "for a reasonable period" as McLaughlin's whereabouts are probed.

McLaughlin faces a number of terrorist charges including aiding and abetting the murder of Mr Black, possessing articles for use in terrorism and belonging to a proscribed organisation.

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