Legal aid pay-out for murder case on-the-run branded ‘scandalous’

Damien McLaughlin
Damien McLaughlin

Legal aid fees for a suspect in the David Black murder had already spiralled to £79,000 before he went on the run, it has emerged.

The taxpayer’s money has been spent on solicitors acting for Damien McLaughlin and for junior counsel, even though the Ardboe man has not yet faced trial. It does not include fees for senior counsel.

McLaughlin is charged with providing the car used in the murder of the prison officer David Black over four years ago, possessing articles for use in terrorism, and belonging to a proscribed organisation.

The trial of the 40-year-old from Kilmascally Road was due to start on 20 February until it emerged he had not been seen by the police since last November and was no longer living at his bail address in Belfast.

DUP MLA Maurice Morrow has branded the fees ‘scandalous’.

“One has to ask how these figures have been reached, given the fact this man has not yet faced trial. However, as I understand it, Legal Aid has now been suspended as McLaughlin remains unlawfully at large.”

The peer has challenged the current and former Ministers for Justice as to why the case has progressed to trial so slowly.

“The case itself has been in the system for an inordinately long period having first appeared in court over four years again in December 2012.

“Such delay permits a bail opportunity for a person who has been remanded in custody for an undue length of time, and defence lawyers are swift to leapt upon the delay, as they did in McLaughlin’s case. Bail will have been argued for under human rights legislation and no doubt the flow of Legal Aid was similarly applied.

“And what has been offered to the family of the victim in this appalling matter? Nothing but horrendously mishandled bail management and excuses for carelessness and slow responses. Such actions have possibly denied the family of David Black their opportunity for justice.”

“Victims come a sorry second to those accused of offences, who have public funds lavished upon them and in this instance, that privilege is reciprocated by disappearance. It is a scandalous indictment of the judicial system.”