Murder in Maze remains a mystery

Peace in Ireland: On the day a huge bomb heading for Britain is found, the Maze prison is exposed as a defeat for security measures
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The Independent Online
A FULL OFFICIAL inquiry into the shooting of the loyalist leader Billy Wright, who was killed within the Maze prison, has failed to establish how two firearms that were used in the attack were smuggled into the jail.

An inquiry team headed by Martin Narey, a senior figure from the prison service of England and Wales, made 59 recommendations for the tightening of procedures in the Maze, which it described as a uniquely difficult prison.

The fact that the inquiry has not discovered how the guns got into the jail, which ranks as the UK's highest-security penal institution, will provide a continuing headache for the authorities.

Although security was found to be potentially defective on so many fronts, the authorities made it clear that no resignations are to follow the report, which in several instances praises the work of its staff.

The report reveals that in searches following the shooting, staff discovered illicit items including screwdrivers, craftknives, pliers, paramilitary uniforms, mobile phones and pornographic videos.

In relation to the escape of Liam Averill, an IRA prisoner who walked out dressed as a woman after a visitors' Christmas party, the report concluded there was "a general sloppiness in procedures".

The report disclosed that Billy Wright had been transferred to the Maze from another prison because the authorities feared the loyalist terrorist group he founded, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, might embark on a campaign of violence in support of his segregation.

They were further worried that he "might martyr himself" by going on a hunger strike at the time of the Orange parade controversy at Drumcree, Co Armagh.

The report concluded it had not been unreasonable for Wright and other LVF prisoners to be placed in the same Maze H-block as inmates from the republican Irish National Liberation Army. It said the prison governor, after speaking to the leaders of both factions, believed neither "would launch a first strike against the other".

The report said INLA prisoners had been able to hear Wright's name being called in readiness for a visit. It had then taken INLA prisoners little more than 30 seconds to climb out of their wing, pass through a wire fence which had previously been cut, cross the roof of the wing and drop into the courtyard where Wright was sitting in a van.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, told the Commons: "The report suggests that the shortcomings cannot be attributed to individuals but are instead the result of a slow but long-running deterioration caused by staff fears of the consequences of managing paramilitary prisoners, and by the absence of effective middle management."

Rejecting a much more restrictive regime for prisoners, she added: "Turning the clock back would be at a price within the prison and in the community that I believe no reasonable person would be prepared to pay."

The Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis denounced the report as "a terrorists' charter for paramilitaries to continue to impose, by violence and the threat of violence, a lawless and undemocratic regime not only inside the prison but outside it, as is admitted in this report".