NI prison officer dies in ambush
A Northern Ireland prison officer has been murdered in a motorway ambush blamed on dissident republicans.
The PSNI today named the victim as David Black, a father of two from Cookstown, Co Tyrone who was a long-serving member of the prison service.
Police said he was hit a number of times when the killers in a car with Dublin registration plates drove up alongside his vehicle on ton Northern Ireland’s M1 motorway and fired a number of shots.
He attacked as he drove to begin duty at the top security Maghaberry jail near Lisburn, Co Antrim.
Politicians on all sides condemned the murder and, even though no organisation has admitted responsibility, security chiefs believe republicans opposed to the peace process were involved. Dissidents have been involved in long-running protests against jail conditions inside Maghaberry.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny tonight condemned the murder, describing it as “deeply disturbing”.
“I utterly condemn the actions of those who carried it out and their scant regard for human life,” he said while on an official visit to Berlin.
Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable Matt Baggott said: “It was a completely senseless attack. It demonstrated the recklessness and ruthlessness and sheer dangerousness of those who oppose peace and are dedicated to taking us back to those dark days of the past.
“This has all the hallmarks of dissident republicans. This was just a brutal attack and we need the public’s support to be able to solve it as quickly as possible."
The PSNI is trying to determine if a burnt-out car found later in the Lurgan area was used in the suspected ambush. It is not clearly established whether Mr Black died from gunshot injuries or as a result of crashing his vehicle.
The incident happened on the eastbound section of the motorway between the M12 turn-off and the Lurgan interchange at about 7.30am. The motorway is currently closed in both directions.
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also condemned the murder.
“At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved family and we condemn this murder in the strongest possible terms,” they said in a joint statement.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter also condemned the murder in the strongest terms.
“I know that I speak for every decent man, woman and child on this island, North and South, in expressing revulsion at this act,” Mr Gilmore said.
Senior security sources have warned recently of imminent attacks from dissident republicans. Dissident republican prisoners have been staging a so-called “dirty protest” at Maghaberry Prison because of their opposition to body searches by prison staff.
Prison officers have been on alert against dissident attack, as have members of the PSNI and British soldiers still stationed in Northern Ireland. Last week the dissident threat in Britain was reduced from “substantial” to “moderate” but the threat level in Northern Ireland remains “severe” which means at attack is “highly likely”.
The SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly said the deceased man was a victim of a “brutal murder”. The shooting was “sickening and disturbing, not to mention reminiscent of the worst moments of the last 40 years”.
“It is essential that the police are permitted to do their job in conducting a swift, thorough, accurate and productive investigation to bring those responsible to justice, and to that end I would call on everyone to keep calm and give what assistance they can,” added the Upper Bann Assembly member..
“The dark forces behind this disgusting murder, which will wreak devastation in the lives of those affected, do not represent the overwhelming majority of people in the North of Ireland and will not achieve anything by taking a life – any life,” said Ms Kelly. “They must be found and they must be punished.”
The DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson and the Alliance East Belfast MP Naomi Long also condemned the shooting this morning.
Additional reporting by PA