Belfast Telegraph

Family of murdered prison officer David Black's pain as court allows New IRA accused to go on a spa break

Brave son Kyle said the Cookstown family have had their lives “irreversibly changed by terrorism”

By Ali Gordon

The distraught family of murdered prison officer David Black has broken its silence about a controversial court decision to allow a dissident republican charged in connection with the killing to enjoy a luxury hotel spa break.

“I wish daddy still had his basic human right of living, never mind being able to go away on a luxury weekend break,” Mr Black’s son Kyle told Sunday Life.

Brave Kyle said his family have had their lives “irreversibly changed by terrorism” and told how their pain remained raw, four years after the outrage devastated the family.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the family’s grief, Kyle described the court decision to relax bail conditions for dissident republican Damien McLaughlin to allow him to enjoy a holiday as “disheartening”.

Earlier this month McLaughlin was allowed to skip his curfew and stop signing bail for three days while he enjoyed a luxury break in the plush Manor House Hotel in Co Fermanagh.

In November 2012 long-serving David Black was the first Northern Ireland warder to be murdered in nearly 20 years when he was gunned down on his way to work at Maghaberry Prison.

The 52-year-old from Cookstown was ambushed as he drove along the M1 between Portadown and Lurgan.

Days after the murder the New IRA group claimed responsibility for the killing.

The gang cited an ongoing dispute over dissident republican prisoners being strip-searched in Maghaberry as their motive.

“It’s nearly four years later and the loss of daddy is still as raw as ever,” said Kyle, who, along with mum Yvonne and sister Kyra, is still coming to terms with the family’s loss.

“Every day is still very difficult and challenging but we have to try and live our lives in a way that would make him proud.”

The Black family put their trust in the justice system, but have had to endure the further pain of knowing that McLaughlin was given the freedom to go on a de-stressing spa break.

“My family has been irreversibly changed by terrorism but have always held the expectation that the justice system would do right by us,” said Kyle.

“We hope that those responsible will face justice and be held accountable for what they have done.

“But seeing someone that is yet to stand trial in relation to dad’s murder be granted relaxation of his bail conditions to go on a spa weekend, and also attend a republican parade, is very disheartening.”

After his application to have his bail conditions relaxed was approved, brazen McLaughlin spent his first day of ‘freedom’ fronting a republican anti-internment protest in Belfast.

He was photographed using his relaxed bail conditions to parade around the city centre alongside convicted republican terrorists Sharon Rafferty and Conor Casey on August 7.

The protest against dissidents being held in prison awaiting trial was led by convicted Old Bailey bomber Roy Walsh, a key member of an IRA cell that attacked London in the 1970s and which included Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly among its number.

Pomeroy woman Rafferty, who now goes by the surname Girvan, was sentenced to four years in jail and four on licence for organising a dissident republican training camp in Co Tyrone in 2014.

She was released less than two years later.

Casey, from Cookstown, was released on licence in 2008 after serving just six years of a 14-year sentence for transporting a 200lb car bomb.

Police officers found a two-way radio and a trigger mechanism when they stopped the car at a checkpoint in Co Armagh.

He was then charged for his part in the paramilitary funeral of IRA terrorist John Brady in 2009 where shots were fired over the coffin.

Brian Shivers, who was acquitted in 2014 after a retrial for the murder of two soldiers and attempted murder of six others at Massereene barracks in Antrim, was also at the anti-internment protest with McLaughlin.

Dungannon man McLaughlin, who is facing four charges in connection to Mr Black’s murder, also volunteered as a steward at a dissident republican march in Coalisland on Easter Sunday.

Described by one fellow officer as “a quiet man who got on with everyone and just went about his job”, David was well-liked among colleagues in Maghaberry.

His murder, the first of a prison officer since September 1993, sent shockwaves among his colleagues who were immediately put on a high security alert from the dissident threat.

McLaughlin, from Kilmascally Road, is currently the only man charged in connection with the murder.

The charges include aiding and abetting Mr Black’s killers, having a Toyota Camry car for use in terrorism, preparing a terrorist act by starting and moving the vehicle that the killers used, and belonging to a proscribed organisation, namely the IRA.

The prosecution alleges McLaughlin transported the Toyota car across the border the night before the attack, but he was released on bail in May 2014 due to delays in his case.

As part of his bail conditions he must report to a local police station five days a week and adhere to a curfew between 10.30pm and 7am.

But McLaughlin’s bail conditions were relaxed to allow him to reside at the luxury Enniskillen lakeside hotel from Sunday, August 7 to Tuesday, August 9.

His curfew was waived for the  spa weekend, though he was required to sign his bail at Enniskillen PSNI station on the Tuesday once he had checked out of the four-star accommodation.

Earlier this summer McLaughlin, 39, had his application to have the Supreme Court overturn an order for him to stand trial rejected.

His lawyer claimed he was unfairly denied the chance to cross-examine a key prosecution witness and that the wrong legal test had been used by a district judge.

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