Bail scandal: all major parties except SF have now commented

Damien McLaughlin
Damien McLaughlin

Two of the main political parties in the Province have belatedly issued statements about the Damien McLaughlin bail scandal – but only after being prompted by the News Letter.

The SDLP and the Alliance Party have now both sent comments about the disappearance of the terror suspect after news broke on Friday, January 6, that he had vanished.

However, Sinn Fein has opted to say nothing, on the grounds that it is a police matter.

Damien Joseph McLaughlin, 40, had been out on bail ahead of his trial next month, where he stands accused of offences including helping to murder prison officer David Black (he denies the charges).

The DUP and UUP both issued statements the very day it emerged he could not be found.

The DUP’s Gavin Robinson (MP for East Belfast) had said the length of time taken to act had been “utterly outrageous, and a betrayal to the Black family”, whilst the UUP’s Tom Elliott (MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone) said his disappearance was both “appalling” and “disgusting”.

No similar statements in the days which followed were received by the News Letter from the SDLP, Sinn Fein or Alliance.

Asked about this on Thursday, the SDLP issued the following comment: “SDLP Policing Board representative Daniel McCrossan has raised the issue with Policing Board officials and will ensure that this matter is fully looked into by the board if indeed the board continues to operate given current political uncertainties.

“This is a very serious matter and all agencies must learn lessons when people skip bail.

“They must enact the quickest possible follow up to pursue this individual and to ensure that confidence in the administration of justice is maintained.”

Later the same day, the Alliance Party said in a statement: “It is not an acceptable state of affairs for this situation to have arisen.

“Mr Black’s family deserve answers from the police and judicial system, and understandably are hurt over this whole matter.

“We hope Damien McLaughlin is recaptured as soon as possible.

“Alliance will be raising this matter at the Policing Board to ensure a review is carried out and proper checks are put in place to prevent a repeat.”

Sinn Fein (who had been criticised by DUP MLA Lord Morrow earlier in the week for its silence on the subject) said via a press spokesman that they “don’t comment on on-going legal matters of the PSNI... it’s a question for the PSNI really”.

Since it emerged that McLaughlin has disappeared, Sinn Fein has issued unprompted comments (on January 7 and January 12) condemning two shootings in west Belfast, both of which are ongoing matters for police.

It was revealed in court on January 6 that McLaughlin had actually vanished in mid-November last year, and that it was not until one day before Christmas Eve that the PSNI discovered his bail address had been cleared out.

Even then, they waited another 11 days until after the Christmas and New Year break to inform the PPS, who arranged a court hearing to revoke his bail.

The decision to grant him bail in the first place has been strongly criticised, and the fact his bail conditions were progressively relaxed has also drawn fire.