The PSNI have finally broken their silence over the disappearance of a man accused of helping to murder prison officer David Black.
The force issued a statement three days after it was revealed Damien Joseph McLaughlin had not been seen by officers since November 18, despite being required to sign for bail five days a week at a PSNI station.
However Mr Black’s son Kyle said there was little in the police statement to offer much comfort.
On Friday, a judge revoked McLaughlin’s bail and issued an arrest warrant after being told he had not been seen for the past seven weeks.
The hearing revealed it was only on December 23 that police found a carton of milk which was a month out of date during a search of his Belfast bail address – a property which seemed to have “effectively been cleared out”, according to a prosecutor.
His trial is set to begin on February 20.
The story was on the front page of the News Letter on Saturday and again on Monday.
Until yesterday, police would only say in response to queries that they had “nothing further to add than what has been disclosed at court”.
After being contacted once again on Monday, a statement in the name of Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray was issued last night.
It answered some questions; for example, it makes clear the PSNI have been in touch with Gardai about McLaughlin’s disappearance.
Other questions went unanswered, such as exactly why it took such an extraordinary length of time to reveal that he was missing and have his bail revoked.
The News Letter had also asked was whether police wanted to apologise for their handling of the case.
The statement (which contained no mention of an apology) said: “We can’t begin to contemplate the distress David Black’s family are feeling following the disclosure of breach of bail conditions by the individual charged with offences in connection with his murder and we fully take on board the concerns they have.
“While I would like to reassure Mr Black’s family, and the public, that our priority is to locate Damien McLaughlin, we are limited in what we can comment on publicly due to the ongoing legal proceedings.
“We are continuing to make active enquiries in relation to the whereabouts of Damien McLaughlin and are liaising with other police services including An Garda Siochana.”
McLaughlin, aged 40 and from Kilmascally Road in Dungannon, has pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting the murder of David Black in November 2012, belonging to a proscribed organisation (namely the IRA), possession of an article for use in terrorism (a Toyota Camry), and preparation of terrorist acts.
Bail for him was initially rejected, but in May 2014 he was bailed on conditions including wearing a tag. A prosecutor told Belfast Crown Court on Friday this condition had later been removed.
He added it was not known if McLaughlin had absconded.
Kyle Black, a 25-year-old finance worker from Cookstown, said they had only learned last Thursday that he was missing.
He said last night it was “about time” the police made public comment on the case.
He did not want to “press them too hard in terms of a public apology”, saying that the important thing is “realising the errors that have taken place” and what happens next.
However he said the family had felt “shocked” and “betrayed” when they learned McLaughlin could not be found.
Asked if anything in the statement to hearten him, he said: “Not really to be honest... It’s just been one blow after another. I think disheartened with the whole process is just how the family is feeling at the minute.”