No collusion in 'King Rat' killing
€36m report into murder at the Maze blames negligence, not conspiracy
AN OFFICIAL inquiry into the murder of notorious loyalist assassin Billy Wright inside a top-security prison in the North has ruled out state collusion in his death. Instead, it blamed negligence by police and prison authorities.
Northern Secretary Owen Paterson said he was sincerely sorry that "serious and profound failings in the system" had facilitated the murder of the LVF leader by the INLA inside the Maze Prison in 1997.
There was minimal criticism of the British government or MI5 in the report, with the police and prison service bearing the brunt.
Wright, who was reputedly responsible for a dozen or more murders of Catholics during a career that earned him the nickname 'King Rat', was shot dead by three INLA members.
They broke out of their prison block, scaled a wall and shot him as he sat in a van.
Both republicans and unionists criticised the 700-page document, which was delivered after a five-year inquiry costing £30m (€36m).
The DUP said the facts would lead many to conclude that the chain of events which led up to the killing "stretched coincidence to breaking point".
Sinn Fein also voiced suspicions, though from a different perspective, saying the report had failed to examine Wright's relationships with senior unionist politicians.
The SDLP said the dangers associated with the Maze "cannot excuse the litany of negligence that the inquiry found, including both omissions and wrongful acts, which facilitated the murder."
Wright's father David, who has for years campaigned for information about his son's death, said it was appalling that police had not passed on intelligence concerning threats against him.
This "constituted dreadful acts of omission that facilitated his death", he added.
The report said: "The panel's conclusion is that the police failure to communicate the intelligence was a wrongful omission, which facilitated the death of Billy Wright in a way that was negligent, rather than intentional."
It added that the shooting had been facilitated, though not deliberately, by factors such as a serious failure by the prison service to address recognised management problems.
It pointed out that guns had been smuggled in, by means still unknown, while an internal fence had been cut and measures had not been taken to seal off an insecure roof over which the gunmen scrambled.
In addition, Wright's name had been called out over a tannoy system, thereby alerting the INLA that he would be in a van used for visits, which would be accessible to them.
The report concluded that such "wrongful acts or omissions facilitated indirectly the murder of Billy Wright."
Criticism of MI5 was confined to an observation that it was "most unfortunate" that a threat to Wright was not passed on to the then security minister.
With the report adamant that collusion did not exist in this case, the authorities will be relieved that government or intelligence agencies were not blamed for the killing.
At the same time, the immediate reactions demonstrated that, unlike the Bloody Sunday inquiry, this report has not dispelled the suspicions of undercover security force behaviour which run deep in Northern Ireland.
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