A unionist member of the Policing Board has declared himself “appalled” by what he has learned of the disappearance of Damien McLaughlin.
Ross Hussey, Ulster Unionist MLA for West Tyrone, was critical of the police’s apparent failure to do anything for weeks on end once they lost contact with him, and of the courts’ approach towards bailing people accused of terrorist offences in general.
Mr Hussey – who has been a member of the Policing Board, which oversees the work of the PSNI, since 2011 – has written to the chief constable on the matter.
“I think it’s a disgrace that in these circumstances somebody who’s supposed to be reporting to the police on a regular basis is no longer doing it,” he said.
“I’ll be pushing the chief constable and other senior officers to find out how this happened, why this happened, and to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“The fact is there are obligations put on the accused by a court, [including] that he must report to police on a regular basis.
“If that is not happening, and police are not looking for him, it would appear they are failing in their duty – and that’s putting it mildly.”
Asked about the issue of bail in general for individuals who are facing terror offences, he is “very much of the view” that such suspects should be held on remand whilst awaiting trial, not released on bail into the wider community.
When it comes to the sureties which were provided as part of McLaughlin’s bail, in a bid to guarantee that he complied with its conditions (amounting to two sureties of £750 each), Mr Hussey said: “It’s not a fortune.”
He added that in such cases the terms of bail must be based on the “gravity of the case”, and in that context £750 was a “drop in the bucket”.
“The judiciary make these decisions, and they are the legal experts, but at the same time ... it’s wrong that somebody who is suspected of a terror offence gets out on such light bail conditions,” he said.
The next Policing Board meeting will take place on February 2.