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Justice Minister 'deeply concerned' over disappearance of David Black accused

Published 13/01/2017

Prison officer David Black was killed in 2012 (Police Service of Northern Ireland/PA)
Prison officer David Black was killed in 2012 (Police Service of Northern Ireland/PA)

Stormont's Justice Minister has said she is "deeply concerned" about the disappearance of a man due to stand trial in connection with the murder of a prison officer in Northern Ireland.

Police have already said sorry to the family of victim David Black after admitting last week that they have not seen accused Damien Joseph McLaughlin since November.

McLaughlin, 40, of Kilmascally Road near Ardboe, Co Tyrone, has not signed bail since then and officers have told a judge they do not know where he is.

Long-serving officer Mr Black, 52, was shot dead by dissident republicans as he drove to work at Maghaberry high security prison in November 2012.

His family have said they feel betrayed by the justice system.

McLaughlin, who had served a period in custody on remand before being bailed, is accused of aiding and abetting the murder and a number of related terror charges. He denies the counts.

He had initially been fitted with an electronic tag while on bail but he was later permitted to remove it.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden said: "I am deeply concerned about this issue, and am in contact with the Chief Constable (George Hamilton) to understand the events that led to the circumstances now being reported.

"I am reassured to see that both the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman are now looking into this issue.

"I deeply regret the further hurt and distress caused to the Black family and it is important to recognise that the family feel let down by the justice system. I understand that.

"It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specifics of any individual case and, whilst it would be easy for me to say let's await the outcome of those reviews to see what lessons can be learned, I want to be clear: the justice system must deliver the right outcomes for victims and defendants but at the heart of that is a system that must operate effectively and with the public confidence."

The minister said work was ongoing on an already announced review by her department of bail decisions in serious cases.

She added: "We need to keep in mind that this is about the loss of David Black and the impact that this is still having on his family, his friends and indeed the Prison Service family.

"The whole of the justice system needs to do the best it can to bring offenders to justice, but also to have a focus on how that is done, with victims' and their families firmly in our mind."

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