Courts must urgently explain lenient bail policy for terror cases

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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A barely believable sequence of events has unfolded with regard to a suspect who was due to go to trial next month for aiding and abetting the murder of David Black, the prison officer, in 2012.

A court heard yesterday that Damien Joseph McLaughlin, 40, from Kilmascally Road in Dungannon, had not been seen since November 18.

The court was told that the address at which he was supposed to be living appeared to be deserted.

McLaughlin is innocent until proven otherwise – that is not the issue in this case.

The issue is the slack bail terms in relation to the seriousness of the charge. These were watered down.

This is not the first case in which that has happened. Earlier in the year McLaughlin had his bail terms varied to facilitate a luxury holiday in Fermanagh.

There have been other high profile bail policy decisions in which repeated breaches of conditions by a person accused of a serious offence have not been met with revoking of bail.

This happened several times in the case of the man charged with murdering Adrian Ismay before his bail was finally revoked in October.

When the News Letter has asked about this, the courts have cited the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

This is an utterly inadequate explanation for either the watering down of bail terms or the failure to revoke immediately in the case of any breach by someone on a serious terror charge.

Most people would be outraged that bail is granted in the first place in such cases, regardless of what the ECHR says.

In this latest case, the PSNI have serious explaining to do. It seems outrageous that a failure to sign with the police was not acted upon on the very first day it happened, let alone for almost seven weeks.

Ben Lowry: No other country in the West would treat terror charges as lightly as Northern Ireland does