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Report published into Billy Wright killing

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 14 September 2010

A report into the death of loyalist Billy Wright, who was shot dead in the high-security Maze prison 13 years ago, will be published this afternoon - as Carl Dinnen looks at the questions that it needs to answer.

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

The report, the result of a public inquiry into the killing, is expected to be highly critical of the prison service in Northern Ireland and will address claims that Wright's death was the result of collusion.

"A lot of people wanted Billy Wright out of the way," writes Channel 4 News reporter Carl Dinnen.

"Any list of his enemies could start with his former Ulster Volunteer Force comrades, move through all the republican paramilitary groups and finish with the British government.

Wright, whose nickname was King Rat, was one of Northern Ireland's most feared assassins when he was ambushed by armed republican prisoners, who managed to slip through security and open fire.

The murder, in December 1997, was carried out while Northern Ireland's political parties were involved in delicate peace negotiations that culminated in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the following year.

Wright, who was 37 and from Portadown in County Armagh, was the leader of the loyalist splinter group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) and was allegedly linked to up to 20 murders of Catholics. At the time of the killing, he was in the back of a prison van waiting to be taken to meet his girlfriend when he was shot seven times.

Three republican prisoners from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a republican breakaway faction, were involved. Two of the three, Christopher "Crip" McWilliams and John Kennaway, had been transferred into the same H-Block as Wright the previous May, just weeks after Wright was moved from Maghaberry Prison to serve out an eight-year sentence.

The questions the inquiry must answer
A lot of people wanted Billy Wright out of the way, writes Carl Dinnen.

Any list of his enemies could start with his former Ulster Volunteer Force comrades, move through all the republican paramilitary groups and finish with the British government.

But who wanted it badly enough to kill him? Christopher McWilliams pulled the trigger. Before his own death he said it was an Irish National Liberation Army operation only. But did the the INLA have help? Could three of their prisoners in 'Europe's most secure prison' really have mounted such a complex operation alone?

These questions need to be answered today:

How did they get a gun into the Maze prison?
How did they know the timing of Wright's prison visit?
Why was the hole in the fence not spotted?
Why was the watch tower unmanned?

I don't know if the inquiry will be able to answer these questions. Perhaps it will be able to address the biggest one though; was Billy Wright murdered because he was a threat to the peace process?

This has been his father David's suspicion all along. He has carried himself with dignity throughout and however odious his son he deserves some answers today.

McWilliams, Kennaway and John Glennon shot him after hearing his name announced over the prison public address system. They surrendered to prison staff and were later sentenced to life imprisonment, but released early under the terms of the 1998 peace deal.

At the time of Wright's murder, one of them told police: "Billy Wright was executed for one reason and for one reason only, and that was for directing and waging a campaign of terror against the nationalist people from his cell."

The inquiry was set up in 2007 after investigations by retired Canadian judge Peter Corry into allegations of collusion by prison staff. He said at the time that "there was sufficient evidence of collusive acts by prison authorities to warrant the holding of such an inquiry".

The report will look at  the role of the security services, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary; the decision to keep Wright and other LVF members in the same H-Block as the INLA; and security lapses which allowed the INLA to smuggle in two guns.

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