Loyalist died in 'daring attack'

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The Independent Online
THE "daring" operation to kill the loyalist paramilitary leader Billy Wright in the Maze prison depended on split-second timing and was carried out in full view of prison officers, a court was told yesterday.

The Irish National Liberation Army killers who carefully planned the murder had been able to cut a hole in a fence dividing their wing in the prison from Wright's, Downpatrick Crown Court, in Co Down, was told.

Details of how the man known as King Rat was shot dead in Northern Ireland's top- security jail were revealed as the three men accused of his killing went on trial.

Christopher McWilliams, 35, John Gerard Kennaway, 35, and John Glennon, 32, all deny the murder on 27 December 1997.

The three were being held in the H6 block of the Maze, in wings designated for the INLA, the court heard. Wright was being held in adjoining wings for the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

The opportunity for the killing came when Wright was sitting in a prison van, waiting to be transported from his wing to the visitors' centre of the prison, said Pat Lynch, for the prosecution.

Wright's appearance triggered a carefully planned sequence of events.

A hole in a fence at the rear of the wing housing the accused had been cut out and a stack of chairs put in front of it to conceal it from inspection. A portion of fencing was held in place in front of it with shoestrings, Mr Lynch said.

After Wright was seen leaving his wing the accused went through the hole in the fence, climbed up on to a flat roof and then down into the courtyard where the van was waiting with Wright inside for the gates to be opened, the court heard.

Armed with two pistols, McWilliams and Kennaway threatened the officers accompanying Wright, opened the side door to the van, which was unlocked and singled out the loyalist chief.

Another LVF prisoner inside the van was told to get out of the way as they opened fire. Wright kicked out at his attackers but was shot several times and succumbed rapidly to his injuries, the court was told. The three accused then scrambled back into their wing, where they later surrendered after negotiations with a prison chaplain, and the weapons were handed over.

"This was a daring plan which depended on split-second timing but which was carried out in broad daylight with no attempt to conceal either what they were doing or their identities," said Mr Lynch.

"The murder was witnessed by prisoners and prison staff who were unable to do anything and each of the accused has been identified by witnesses."

He said there was scientific evidence, including firearms residue on the clothes of the accused, as well as blood matching Wright's on the clothing of Glennon and McWilliams.

The court heard that when asked about the killing, McWilliams told a prison officer: "It couldn't have been avoided. You put him in the block with us. There could have been 20 of us burnt because of him."

The trial is continuing amid tight security.