The INLA Execution Of Billy Wright
The End of King Rat…
The 700 page report into the execution-style killing of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) death squad leader, Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright, in Long Kesh prison in December, 1997 was made public in September 2010 and categorically ruled out any state collusion in his assassination. The eagerly anticipated report was formally released after Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Patterson, announced it’s finding in the House of Commons on September 14th, 2011 which despite ruling out collusion was scathing of the ‘management of the “Maze prison.”
The Billy Wright Report, costing the British taxpayer £36 million, was established at the behest of the Wright family who allege that the British government, the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the security services colluded in facilitating the murder of the Loyalist godfather. The 700 page report was understandably critical of the prison regime which allowed Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright and his fellow LVF prisoners to share the same H-Block 6 as prisoners belonging to the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Prior to Wright’s assassination in 1997, both INLA and LVF prisoners had been vocal in pointing out the volatility of the situation in H 6.
Wright died at the hands of what was termed an INLA active service unit (ASU) while still imprisoned inside the top security Long Kesh (aka the Maze) Prison. On the morning of the 27th of December 1997, a three man INLA ASU had armed themselves with two handguns and made their way through a pre-cut hole in the chainlink fence in one of the block’s exercise yards. From there the INLA trio scaled the roof of the one storey H-Block and dropped into the courtyard of the entrance to block where Wright had just boarded a prison bus en route to the prison visiting area.
The INLA hit-team led by Christopher ‘Crip’ McWilliams, with fellow INLA prisoners Sonny Glennon and John Kennaway in supporting roles, forced access to the prison van where they quickly shot Wright dead, then returned to their wing in H6. The entire military-style operation reportedly took less than 2 minutes, from the time the INLA unit emerged from the pre-cut exercise yard fence.
The main contentions of the Loyalist death-squad leader’s family are that several ‘irregularities ‘ in security procedures occurred either on the day of his murder or in the lead up to it. David Wright, the LVF leader’s father was allegedly later contacted by individual prison guards who were on duty on the day of his son’s assassination. The Maze prison guards alleged that key security watchtowers were left unattended – in direct contravention of established security procedures, but on the orders of the then ‘number one’ prison governor, the late Martin Mogg.
Wright’s father further alleges that his son, who many commentators believe was a security services protected asset, became surplus to requirements in the era of the fledgling Irish peace process. The Wright family became convinced that his son’s assassination within supposedly Europe’s most secure prison was the culmination of an unlikely chain of conspiracy, that began with his son’s transfer to the Maze prison from the nearby Maghaberry Gaol. David Wright contends that his son’s transfer to Long Kesh was at the behest of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and would have required clearance at Cabinet level. Wright Senior, is critical of the decision to place Billy Wright and his fellow maverick LVF followers within the same prison H-Block as INLA inmates.
Sectarian Serial Killer
Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright was the leader of Northern Ireland’s most prolific sectarian murder gang who terrorised the mid-Ulster area with impunity for several decades of the Troubles. Wright’s ability to carry out a sectarian murder campaign, unhindered by any serious prosecution, was seen to have been clear evidence of British government collusion in state-sponsored murder. Nationalist and even moderate Unionist politicians accepted that Billy Wright was indeed a protected species and that his seemingly charmed and largely unhindered campaign of sectarian murder was allowed to continue because it was a key element of Kitsonite military counter-insurgency strategy in the north of Ireland. Originally a regional commander of the Unionist Ulster Volunteer Force, he fell out of favour with the UVF’s Belfast leadership due to their engagement in the fledgling Irish Peace Process . Following his expulsion from the mainstream UVF and on foot of a blanket death threat from the same organisation Wright formed his own ultra-right wing paramilitary gang, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).
The DUP: Political wing of Wright’s LVF?
Billy Wright and the LVF were closely associated with Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and their ultra-right wing brand of Protestant fundamentalist politics. Wright allegedly received the backing of a number of well known D.U.P parliamentary figures, including gospel music crooner and arch-bigot, the Reverend William McCrea, Westminster MP for South Antrim. Many saw the DUP as being the de facto political wing of the LVF amidst allegations that senior DUP politicians were responsible for laundering LVF drugs money for many years. Investigative Journalist, the late Martin O’Hagan, was murdered by the LVF, reportedly just as he was about to expose the details of financial links and money laundering activities that occurred between the DUP and Wright’s pseudo-gang.
Wright was eventually jailed for a relatively minor charge and his Mid-Ulster Loyalist followers maintained that he had been taken out of circulation in the interests of the nascent Irish peace process. Although imprisoned within supposedly the most secure prison in Europe, it was widely accepted that he continued to direct the sectarian murder campaign of the LVF from his prison cell.
The INLA had objected strongly to the Maze prison authorities placing Billy Wright and the LVF prisoners within the same H-Block as a recipe for trouble, but for reasons best known to themselves these warnings were ignored by the Northern Ireland Prison Service. In the immediate aftermath of the killing of Wright, one of the INLA unit, Christopher Crip McWilliams, when arrested by police in December 1997 stated:
“Billy Wright was executed for one reason and one reason only, and that was
for directing and waging his campaign of terror against the nationalist people from his prison cell in Long Kesh.”
The three members of the INLA active service unit including crip McWilliams and his comrades John Kennaway and Sonny Glennon subsequently faced counts of murder and possession of firearms. At their much publicised trial they offered no evidence in their defence but refused to plead guilty. After a short hearing they were sentenced to Life imprisonment, but due to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement’s political offenders release programme, they served just over two years jail time. Since their release both Crip McWilliams and John Kennaway have since died, leaving Sonny Glennon as the sole surviving member of the INLA hit team.
The Billy Wright report and the tribunal that was commissioned due to concerns raised by David Wright, heard evidence from prison guards, prison governors, LVF members, MI5 intelligence officers, Special Branch detectives and other ‘interested’ parties. Some of the findings on the reams of evidence that emerged during the inquiry focused on how the INLA active service unit managed to smuggle the two handguns, a Makarov 38 pistol and a .22 LR two-shot Derringer into the prison. However, the Irish Republican Socialist bureau which released a statement shortly before the Wright Inquiry findings were published have always maintained that there was no collusion at any level and that their member’s simply took advantage of circumstances as they presented themselves to their members. It is thought highly unlikely that the INLA would have colluded with the NIO or the State, Wright had been the INLA’s number one target for many years.
The findings of the 700 page report further exposed the ‘unique’ regime that existed within the now closed Long Kesh prison. Both Republican and Loyalist prisoners were largely in control of the day to day running of the gaol. Many of the main allegations of conspiracy, collusion and cover-up surrounding the murder of Billy Wright are contained in the book by Chris Anderson, entitled ‘The Billy Boy.’ Anderson maintains that from the moment Wright entered the Maze prison, he was as good as dead! Of that much, Anderson’s hypothesis is correct.
One thing is certain, there were even fewer tears shed for Wright in 2010 than there were in 1997. Some commentators have alleged that it was possible that the security services knew in advance, through electronic surveillance bugs in the prison, of the plans by the INLA to kill Wright but due to a change in tact of security policy, it was their view that it was politically expedient to let him die. Security figures within Long Kesh prison and MI5 spooks who gave evidence at the Wright Inquiry denied that there were covert listening devices concealed anywhere within the prison, when it was a common;y held belief among prisoners that such surveillance methods were routine.
Shadowy Kitsonian figures had created an uncontrollable Frankenstein monster in Billy Rat who was proving impossible to control in the impending era of the ‘new dispensation’ in Anglo-Irish politics. Billy Wright fatally believed his own propaganda and failed to see that he was increasingly surplus to requirements and therefore no longer had the charmed cloak of protection that had prevented previous numerous assassination attempts. Even if Wright had survived his stay in Long Kesh prison, there would have been no place in the era of the so-called new dispensation for figures like Wright. The Billy Wright Inquiry can be accessed in it’s entirety here and it’s key findings are available on-line from the 14th of September, 2010.