Broken buzzer thwarted bail checks on missing terror suspect

Damien McLaughlin denies the charges against him
Damien McLaughlin denies the charges against him

Some details have finally emerged about precisely how police lost track of a man facing terror offences while he was on bail, as it was confirmed that an international arrest warrant is now in force for him.

According to answers provided to the Policing Board by the PSNI, officers were thwarted in their efforts to establish Damien McLaughlin’s whereabout because of a faulty buzzer on the block of flats at his west Belfast bail address.

Damien McLaughlin

Damien McLaughlin

It also appears that, despite McLaughlin having serious recent paramilitary convictions and being the sole person still facing charges in relation to the murder of prison officer David Black, the PSNI did not even have a telephone number for him.

The details emerged in a statement from the chief constable to the Policing Board on February 2, the contents of which have appeared on the board’s website.

McLaughlin, 40 and from Kilmascally Road in the Ardboe area of Co Tyrone, had been out on bail for years ahead of his trial this month. He denies four charges linked to the Black shooting, including aiding and abetting murder.

McLaughlin was required to sign bail with police five times a week, but despite vanishing some time in November, it took almost two months for his bail to be revoked.

The News Letter has previously tried to establish if a European Arrest Warrant had been issued for him, but the police did not answer.

Now, in his statement to the Policing Board, George Hamilton has said that the PSNI had been “liaising with other law enforcement agencies in Europe, including An Garda Siochana and Europol”, suggesting that police may believe he is hiding somewhere on the continent, rather than just the Republic of Ireland.

He added that a European Arrest Warrant, covering the whole EU, has been obtained.

McLaughlin had been released in 2011 from a jail term for possessing a haul of guns.

He was arrested in relation to the Black case in late 2012, and given bail in mid-2014.

In total, police had checked his address 43 times during the period he was on bail.

Setting out the chain of events which led to police discovering he had fled, Mr Hamilton said officers performed a curfew check in the early hours of November 18 last year, and discovered a broken buzzer at the flats.

McLaughlin turned up at a police station that day to sign bail; the last time he did so.

On November 20, police attended the address for a bail check, and saw his car was outside, “however, again due to the faulty buzzer system, officers were unable to confirm a breach of bail conditions”.

They raised this with the PPS on November 21, and on November 22 they notified his legal representatives KRW Law in writing about the faulty buzzer, also “requesting a telephone number be provided by Mr McLaughlin until the buzzer was fixed”.

The chief constable added: “No response was made by KRW Law to this request.”

On November 25, the issue was raised in court, but “was not resolved and no further comments or directions were made by the judge”.

Officers were told to continue bail checks.

The chief constable’s statement adds that there was “a breakdown in the monitoring of the bail” from about this time right up until December 23, when police finally gained entry to his flat only to find that it had been uninhabited “for some time”.

Nonetheless, it was not until January 6 that his bail was revoked in court and his disappearance finally became public.

Mr Black was killed when shots were fired at his Audi A4 on the M1 near Lurgan as he drove to work at about 7.30am on November 1, 2012.

He was a father of two from Cookstown, and was soon to retire.