Belfast Telegraph

Dissident suspect allowed spa break on bail over murder of prison officer David Black

Exclusive: questions raised over how courts deal with terror accused after republican appears at anti-internment protest and enjoys hotel stay

By Deborah McAleese

A terror suspect charged in connection with the murder of prison officer David Black had his bail conditions relaxed so he could go on a spa break, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Damien McLaughlin was granted permission by a court to skip his curfew and stop signing bail for three days while enjoying a mini break at a luxury lakeside hotel in Co Fermanagh earlier this month.

On the first day of his relaxed bail conditions, McLaughlin was photographed fronting a republican anti-internment protest in west Belfast, alongside convicted terrorists Sharon Rafferty and Conor Casey.

Rafferty was one of a gang of four jailed for a string of terrorist-related offences including the setting up of a training camp at a forest in Omagh.

Would-be-bomber Casey was released on licence in 2008 after serving six years of a 14-year sentence for transporting a 200lb car bomb. The vehicle was stopped at a police check point in Co Armagh and officers uncovered a two-way radio and a trigger mechanism for the massive bomb which was primed and ready for use.

McLaughlin was also joined at the protest on August 7 by Brian Shivers who was acquitted after retrial two years ago of the murder of two soldiers and six attempted murders at Massereene barracks.

The Belfast Telegraph can also reveal that on Easter Sunday - while under strict bail conditions - McLaughlin acted as a steward at a dissident republican march in Coalisland. He is clearly seen in video footage dressed in a yellow jacket marshalling the parade.

McLaughlin, from the Kilmascally Road in Dungannon, is facing four charges in relation to Mr Black's killing.

They include aiding and abetting his murder, having a Toyota Camry car for use in terrorism, preparing a terrorist act by starting and moving the vehicle which the killers used, and belonging to a proscribed organisation, namely the IRA.

Mr Black was shot dead on the M1 in Co Armagh in November 2012 en route to work at high security Maghaberry Prison.

The 52-year-old father of two was the first Northern Ireland prison officer to be murdered in nearly 20 years. The prosecution alleges McLaughlin transported the Toyota car across the border with the Republic on the eve of the attack. McLaughlin was released on bail in May 2014 due to delays in his case.

As part of his bail conditions he must report to a police station five days a week and adhere to a curfew between 10.30pm and 7am. However, his bail conditions were changed to allow him to reside at the Manor House in Enniskillen from Sunday, August 7 to Tuesday, August 9.

He did not have to adhere to his curfew on those days. The only requirement was that he sign bail at Enniskillen PSNI station on the Tuesday after he checked out of the hotel.

The case has raised fresh questions over the bailing of terror suspects.

"There is a widespread concern about the way in which the courts are dealing with cases involving so-called 'dissident republicans'. That is in relation to the granting of bail, the setting of bail conditions and the sentencing of dissident republicans who have been convicted of terrorist offences," the DUP's Nelson McCausland said. "It seems that some judges are taking an extremely lenient view of these cases. It is almost as if they do not regard 'dissident republicans' as serious terrorists.

"However the truth is that they are out to murder police officers and prison officers and, in the case of David Black, they succeeded in murdering him," the MLA added. Mr McCausland said he believed that terror suspects should only be bailed "in the most exceptional circumstances". "It is time for the court system in Northern Ireland to step up to the mark and treat these terrorism-related charges with the seriousness they demand. Elsewhere in the United Kingdom the courts would deal much more severely with such serious crimes."

The case follows questions over changes in bail conditions for another terror suspect, Damien 'Dee' Fennell, so that he could go on holiday to Donegal.

The 34-year-old was charged with encouraging acts of terrorism, inviting support for the IRA and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA after speaking an Easter Rising commemoration event in Lurgan, Co Armagh last year. Fennell has denied the charges.

UUP MP Tom Elliott said he was concerned that the holiday coincides with the annual Republican Sinn Fein hunger strike commemoration in Bundoran. "I would therefore ask whether any specific condition was placed on Mr Fennell to exclude him from Bundoran next Saturday? And if not why not?" he asked.

Belfast Telegraph

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