Belfast Telegraph

Prison officer murder case suspect seeks bail after weeks on the run

By John Cassidy

A terror suspect facing charges linked to the murder of prison officer David Black and who went on the run while on bail is to make a fresh bid for freedom, a court has heard.

Damien McLaughlin (40), of Kilmascally Road near Ardboe in Co Tyrone, absconded from his bail address in west Belfast last November.

The PSNI later admitted to only becoming aware of his disappearance when officers called at his bail address the following month and discovered the house empty of furniture and found milk in the fridge that was several weeks old.

A massive manhunt was launched for McLaughlin on both sides of the border and police eventually secured a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) for him to be arrested on sight.

He was arrested by an armed Gardai response unit on March 2 while walking along the street in Ramelton, Co Donegal, en route to Letterkenny.

McLaughlin was later taken to Dublin where he appeared before the Central Criminal Court on foot of the EAW and was remanded in custody.

He is due to stand trial later this year accused of aiding and abetting in the murder of Mr Black in November 2012, possessing articles in connection with terrorism, preparation of acts of terrorism and belonging to a proscribed organisation.

During a review of the case at Belfast Crown Court yesterday, a prosecution lawyer told Mr Justice Treacy: "This is the accused who absconded while on bail and was subsequently arrested in the Republic of Ireland.

"He is currently in custody pending extradition from the Republic to this jurisdiction on these charges.

"His case is listed for a court in Dublin on May 15 and he intends to make a bail application on that date and that is a matter for the authorities there.''

He added that the Crown had no response yet from the authorities in the Republic on a possible hearing date for the extradition proceedings.

"It is clear that we will not know any more about the state of play in Dublin before May 18 and we will have to await the outcome of extradition proceedings in this case," he added.

"Our application is to have this case listed at the end of this term and by then, perhaps, the court will have a clearer picture of what is happening in Dublin.''

With no objections from McLaughlin's defence counsel Desmond Hutton, Mr Justice Treacy agreed to list the case for mention again on June 30.

McLaughlin's disappearance only came to light in January this year at the same court when a prosecution lawyer asked for his bail to be revoked after he could not be found at his bail address in west Belfast.

The lawyer said Mr McLaughlin failed to sign with police in November.

He said that on December 23, police called to the address which he said "appears to have effectively been cleared out".

Milk that was four weeks out of date was found in the fridge.

When officers checked his other address in Ardboe, and those of family members, this was "of no assistance".

The prosecutor also said that the people who provided sureties, namely Mr McLaughlin's uncles, were also "not able to assist in locating him".

McLaughlin's disappearance while on bail provoked a public outcry from Mr Black's family, who said they "felt let down and hurt by the justice system''.

Mr Black's widow Yvonne, daughter Kyra and son Kyle were later visited by the PSNI officer leading the manhunt for McLaughlin, Detective Chief Supt Raymond Murray.

DCS Murray said he had visited the Black family "to offer sincere apologies on behalf of the PSNI for the stress and worry this situation is creating for them".

The failure by the PSNI to carry out regular bail checks on McLaughlin is currently the subject of a Police Ombudsman investigation.

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