Wednesday 13 December 2017

Report on Loyalist's jail murder due in September

The findings of a public inquiry into the prison murder of loyalist Billy Wright in the North is to be published on September 14, the Government confirmed today.

The former leader of the paramilitary Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) was shot dead by republicans who smuggled weapons into the top security Maze prison in 1997.

Lord Ranald MacLean led a £30m investigation into alleged security lapses and allegations of an official plot to have Wright killed because of the danger he posed to the peace process.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said a scrutiny of the report by Government lawyers had ensured its release did not pose a threat to the lives of individuals, and he confirmed the document was cleared for publication.

In a ministerial statement released at Westminster today, Mr Paterson said: "The report has not been shown to me or to any other member of the Government, or to any officials except the five members of the team which carried out the checking process.

"I have not been briefed on the contents of the report, nor have any officials other than those in the checking team.

"As with the publication of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry report, I intend to consider giving advance sight to those who were designated as represented parties by the inquiry, to their legal representatives, and to some Members of this House.

"I intend to discuss this with the Speaker of this House in due course."

He said the printing of the report could now go ahead.

Wright, 37, was gunned down by inmates from the republican splinter group the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) as he sat in a prison van in December 1997 before a visit.

The loyalist led a breakaway group which split from the larger Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) over its support for the emerging peace process and the paramilitary ceasefires of the mid-1990s.

Wright was a high-profile figure who featured prominently at the Drumcree parades dispute in Portadown, Co Armagh, which was sparked by Orange Order demands to march through the Catholic Garvaghy Road area and residents' objections to the parade.

His group was at the centre of violence, including a string of murders, linked to the episode.

His killing by the INLA sparked brutal reprisals by the LVF and other loyalists sympathetic to his views.

And his murder in what was then the North's high security prison sparked allegations that the killers were assisted.

The Wright inquiry was one of three established to probe allegations of security force collusion in the controversial deaths.

The others included murdered solicitor Rosemary Nelson and Catholic man Robert Hamill who was kicked to death in Portadown while police were nearby.

Inquiry hearings into the Wright shooting ran from January 2008 to July 2009, during which a number of witnesses were granted anonymity.

But the conclusions of the Wright report could not be published until checks to ensure its release met obligations in relation to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and national security.

The Bloody Sunday report into the death of 14 civil rights protesters shot dead by soldiers was published last month after the Government took time to consider similar national security implications.

The questions considered by the Wright panel included:

:: The decision to house Wright and other LVF members in the same prison block as the INLA;

:: The security lapses which allowed the INLA to smuggle in two guns;

:: The standing down of a prison officer from the watchtower overlooking H Block 6 on the morning of the killing;

:: Why a vital CCTV camera was not working;

:: The lapses which allowed a wire fence to be cut by the INLA members.

Press Association

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