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Who was loyalist Billy Wright?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 14 September 2010

As a report is published into the killing of loyalist Billy Wright in Northern Ireland's Maze prison, Channel 4 News looks back at his life and considers why his death was so significant.

A report is published into the murder of loyalist prisoner Billy Wright, whose nickname was King Rat (Reuters)

Billy Wright was a loyalist paramilitary - a former member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and subsequently leader of the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

He was born in Wolverhampton, but grew up in south Armagh in Northern Ireland, mixing freely with Catholics and playing Gaelic football.

Wright joined the youth section of the UVF at 15, following the 1976 Kingsmill massacre, when 10 Protestsants were killed by republicans. His  uncle, father-in-law and brother-in-law were also killed by republicans during the Troubles, although his father David was a critic of loyalist terrorism.

In 1977, Wright was sentenced to six years in prison for arms offences and hijacking. After his release, he returned to Portadown, where he worked as an insurance salesman, married and had two daughters.

He became a born again Christian and preacher, soon realising that his paramilitary activities - supposedly on behalf of Northern Ireland's Protestants - were at odds with the message of his faith.

Directed murders
But this recognition did not stop Wright going back to the UVF in the mid-1980s, becoming its leader in the Portadown area and allegedly directing up to 20 sectarian killings, most of them Catholic civilians. He was never convicted for any of these deaths.

He was targeted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), which tried to kill him on five occasions.

"King Rat"
Wright and his group called themselves the "brat pack" - with journalist Martin O'Hagan inventing the nickname "King Rat" for Wright.

In 1994, during peace talks in Northern Ireland, he objected to the UVF leadership's call for a ceasefire and is believed to have ordered more.

LVF formed
This led to his dismissal from the UVF and formation of the LVF, which was proscribed by Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam in 1997.

Wright was jailed in the same year for threatening to kill a woman. He was sent to HMP Maghaberry before being transferred to the Maze, where he was housed in a separate wing from INLA inmates.

Wright murdered
The LVF agreed to a ceasefire, hoping this would lead to the release of Wright and other prisoners. But on 27 December 1997, at the age of 37, he was killed by three INLA prisoners.

The fact he died in a high-security prison has led to claims that the authorities colluded with the INLA to have an opponent of the peace process taken out -  allegations that have been denied by the INLA.

His murder resulted in a public inquiry, chaired by Lord MacLean, and today's report.

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