British inquiry finds no collusion in loyalist's murder

14th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

A British government inquiry found no evidence of state collusion in the 1997 murder of a top paramilitary in Northern Ireland's notorious Maze jail, a senior lawmaker said Tuesday.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said the shooting of Billy Wright -- the head of the pro-British Loyalist Volunteer Force who was allegedly linked to up to 20 murders -- was able to happen due to errors by authorities.

"The panel's conclusions are clear and unequivocal on the central issue of collusion. There was no state collusion in the murder of Billy Wright," Paterson told the lower house of parliament.

However, the inquiry said that there had been failings in the prison and that there were "certain individuals and institutions or state agencies, some of whose actions did in our opinion facilitate his death."

Wright -- nicknamed "King Rat" -- was gunned down by rival republican prisoners while sitting in the back of a prison van in December 1997 as he was being taken to meet his visiting girlfriend.

They had smuggled in guns and cut through a fence in the exercise yard to get to the van.

The inquiry found that prisoners from both Catholic republican paramilitary groups and Protestant loyalist outfits were held too closely together within the prison and that this "directly facilitated" Wright's murder.

Prisoners including those who murdered Wright were given too much movement with "no proper security supervision", while there was a failure by intelligence agencies to communicate a threat to Wright's life.

"His murder in a high-security prison should never have happened. It was wrong and I am sincerely sorry that failings in the system facilitated his murder," said Paterson.

Northern Ireland was wracked by three decades of sectarian violence that largely ended with the 1998 Good Friday peace accords which led to the creation of a power-sharing government between Catholic nationalist parties who want to be part of Ireland and pro-British Protestant unionists.

There have been a series of inquiries into the period, with British Prime Minister David Cameron apologising in June for the killings of 13 people in the "Bloody Sunday" shootings in 1972, following a long-awaited report.

© 2010 AFP

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