N Ireland prison officer shot dead in motorway ambush

Police attend the scene of this morning's murder on the M1 motorway. Credit: ITV News

Leaders in Northern Ireland have condemned the "horrific" and "brutal" murder of a veteran prison officer by suspected dissident republicans in a motorway ambush today.

David Black, from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, was shot dead on Northern Ireland's M1 motorway early this morning as he drove to begin duty at the top security Maghaberry jail near Lisburn, Co Antrim.

ITV News Correspondent Martin Geissler reports:

Although no organisation has admitted responsibility, security chiefs believe extremist republicans opposed to the peace process were involved after long-running protests against jail conditions inside Maghaberry.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Matt Baggott said Mr Black, who was nearing retirement after more than 30 years' service, was "dedicated" and "a person keeping people safe".

Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said the gunman was in a Toyota Camry with a Dublin registration which drew alongside Mr Black's black Audi at around 7:30am before opening fire.

Mr Black's car veered off the road and he died later having sustained "very serious and probably fatal gunshot wounds", police said.

A car understood to have been used in the attack was later found burnt-out in Lurgan, Co Armagh, where supporters of dissidents have backed the jail protest campaign.

Mr Black, who was married with a son and a daughter, was the 30th prison officer killed in Northern Ireland since 1974.

Stormont Justice Minister David Ford said the death was a "tragedy" for Mr Black's family that would not return Northern Ireland to the "dark days of the past".

The murder came barely a day after Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the threat from dissident republicans in the country remained severe.

Today, she branded Mr Black's killers as "cowardly" and "evil".

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness issued a joint statement condemning Mr Black's murder in the "strongest possible terms" and appealing for help in catching those responsible.

Sinn Fein Assembly member John O'Dowd said extremists would not be allowed to take the region backwards, adding: