Poyntzpass suspect's death `was murder'

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THE death of a loyalist prisoner found hanging in his cell is being treated as murder, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said last night.

Oliver Keys, who was accused of the murder of a Protestant and a Catholic in a Co Armagh bar earlier this month, was yesterday found hanged in his cell at the Maze prison.

It was first thought he had killed himself, but the RUC said last night: "The Maze prison death of David Keys is being treated as murder. The announcement came following a post-mortem examination.

The death of Keys, 26, from Banbridge, is the latest in a series of incidents within the jail, which have included an attempted mass breakout, the escape of an IRA prisoner and the killing of a prominent loyalist by republican inmates.

Keys was one of four men charged last week with the murders of Philip Allen and Damien Trainor at Poyntzpass, a village not far from Banbridge.

One observer who saw Mr Keys during a court appearance last week said that he "looked a bundle of nerves". A detective told the court that when charged he had replied: "Definitely not guilty, definitely not guilty to any of them murders." The dead man was a former member of the Royal Irish Regiment.

The two men he allegedly killed were a Protestant and a Catholic who were lifelong friends and who were drinking together in a bar in the previously peaceful and mixed village of Poyntzpass. The gunmen who burst into the pub and opened fire indiscriminately were said to be from the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

He was discovered hanging in his cell in an LVF wing which, like other republican and loyalist quarters in the jail, is for most of the time unsupervised by prison staff. Prisoners run the wings, with staff entering only occasionally. Police will be studying film from security cameras which are trained along the corridors, but do not show the interior of cells.

Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, claimed political control of the jail was at the heart of the problem. He declared: "Having presided over the most incredible and tragic events - events which point to collusion at the highest level - this government attempts to ride out a public storm by ordering an internal investigation led by one of its own civil servants."

Other inquiries have already been ordered into an IRA attempt to stage a mass breakout last May, and the incident in December last when a republican inmate walked out, reportedly dressed as a woman, following a Christmas party for the relatives of prisoners.

A further investigation is being carried out into the killing of Billy Wright, the LVF leader. He was shot dead just after Christmas by members of the Irish National Liberation Army who were housed in the same H-block. The Government has resisted calls for the resignation of either ministers or senior prison officials.