Belfast Telegraph

David Black family say right to justice is being washed away after trial collapse

   

By Gillian Halliday

The widow of murdered prison officer David Black has been "greatly touched" by public support after the collapse of a trial of a man accused of a role in his killing.

Yvonne Black had been in court to witness Damien McLaughlin, who was charged in connection with the murder, walk free from Belfast's Laganside Courthouse on Thursday.

Mr Black, a father-of-two, was targeted by dissident republicans in a drive-by shooting in 2012 on his way to work at Maghaberry Prison.

His son, Kyle, revealed yesterday that former Stormont justice minister, Claire Sugden, had contacted his mother directly to lend her support within hours of all of the charges against Damien McLaughlin (41) being dismissed by a Crown Court Judge.

Mr McLaughlin - formerly from Kilmascally Road near Ardboe - had been accused of aiding and abetting murder, possession of articles for use in terrorism, preparation of terrorist acts and belonging to a proscribed organisation.

However, the case against him collapsed after prosecutors decided not to appeal a ruling made by Mr Justice Colton that interviews conducted by Garda officers with a key witness were inadmissible.

Reflecting on the case, Kyle Black said his mother and his family received a number of phone calls not only from Ms Sugden, but also from the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour.

"It has been really touching to receive support from people like that in their positions.

"Both Claire and Ronnie passed on their support and we're very appreciative that people are thinking of us at what is a very difficult time," he said. Kyle, who issued a fresh plea for information about his father's murder, said his mum was still reeling from the outcome of the case.

"She's just devastated still, and very upset," he revealed.

"Some emotions never go away, but this has made things raw again."

He also claimed the Northern Ireland judicial system was "more focused" on the rights of those accused of terrorism-related charges, rather than on the victims and their families. "I'm not talking about the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) and the PSNI," he added.

"I'm talking about the application of law, which is questionable," he claimed.

"The families' rights to justice are being washed away.

"Dissident republicans talk a lot of the time about rights, but they seem to be forgetting that by doing what they do, they take away the basic rights of other people, namely the right to life. It's very hypocritical."

The Garda interviews with County Leitrim man Stephen Brady, which alleged that Damien McLaughlin had been identified with the Toyota Camry car that was later used by the gunmen to carry out the murder - formed the central plank of the prosecution's case.

They were deemed unsafe by the judge, who said they were "oppressive, bullying, aggressive, hectoring and unreliable", and that the suspect had been threatened by officers.

Gardai have since announced that they will carry out an internal probe into their role in the collapse of the trial.

A spokesperson for the PPS acknowledged that the outcome of the case would be difficult for the Black family.

"We recognise that the outcome is extremely disappointing for the family and wish to acknowledge and pay tribute to the strength and dignity that they have demonstrated throughout," they said.

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Eamonn Corrigan said Mr Black's murder remained a live investigation.

"To date, detectives have made 12 arrests - eight by the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch in Northern Ireland and four by An Garda Siochana in the Republic," said the senior officer.

DUP MLA for Mid Ulster, Keith Buchanan, said the outcome of the prosecution raised "questions about how a case got to this stage if the only evidence available was not of a sufficient standard for use within court proceedings".

"I believe the Black family deserve an explanation of the handling of this case and exactly what efforts are being made to bring the killers to justice," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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