PSNI appeals to public after prison officer shot dead

Fri, Nov 2, 2012, 00:00

PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has called for immediate public support in helping track down the suspected dissident republican killers of prison officer David Black on the M1 motorway near Lurgan, Co Armagh, yesterday. Mr Baggott made clear that it was vital for the police to receive speedy community information to apprehend the gang that shot dead Mr Black, a 52-year-old married father of two children from Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

Mr Black was hit a number of times when shots were fired from a dark blue Toyota Camry with a Dublin registration as the prison officer drove to work in his Audi A4 car on the motorway near Lurgan at 7.30am. The Toyota was later found burnt-out at Inglewood in Lurgan.

“I would ask everybody to get right behind the murder investigation as the hours and days unfold.

“This is an attack on all people and we need the full support of everyone,” said Mr Baggott.

“Police will be increasing activity in a number of areas as a result of this murder but the most important thing is for people to remain calm, put their trust in police and work with us to catch the killers,” he added.

The murder and the overall threat from the dissidents is certain to be raised this morning at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting which will be attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and several Ministers from Dublin and Stormont.

DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he was in no doubt that dissident republicans from the Lurgan area were involved.

In 2009 the Continuity IRA murdered PSNI constable Stephen Carroll in nearby Craigavon and while this organisation is being investigated there is a higher level of suspicion that a new dissident grouping formed in July could be implicated.

This group is a link-up between the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and a number of unaffiliated veteran republicans with previous Provisional IRA experience, some of whom are from the Lurgan area.

Senior security sources last week warned 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 police service 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 an attack is “highly likely”.

There was widespread condemnation of the murder of Mr Black who had served in the prison service for more than 30 years. He is the 30th prison officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland since 1974.

The last prison officer murdered was Jim Peacock, who was killed by loyalists in 1993.

Mr Black was one of hundreds of prison officers who had applied for redundancy under a major overhaul of the prison system. No decision had been made on his application.