'King Rat': the assassin too violent for his loyalist comrades

Billy Wright, known to all as "King Rat", was one of Northern Ireland's most feared loyalist assassins, surviving for years despite determined efforts to "take him out."

The police wanted to lock him up, regularly arresting him for interrogation, while rival loyalists threatened him and ordered him into exile. The IRA launched up to half a dozen attempts to blow him up.

In the end it was predictable that he should meet a violent death, though it came as a surprise that he should die inside what was supposed to be Europe's most secure prison.

He was enthusiastic about both indulging in violence and speaking about it, his shaven head, heavily tattooed body and characteristic strut radiating restrained menace. He was described as having "a bullet head, close cropped with small ears and deep-set piercing eyes".

But he had more complexities than the average loyalist assassin, having a religious dimension which led him to act for a period as a lay preacher. At other times, though, he did drugs. He also had more brains than most, prison lecturers remembering him as by far the brightest of loyalist pupils.

Yet the fact that he deliberately courted publicity, giving newspaper interviews which kept him in the public eye, made him a marked man. His statements amounted to challenges to both police and the IRA: come and get me, he seemed to say.

He may have had a death wish or at least an acceptance that the path he had chosen would lead to the grave. "Personally I'm a dead man," he once mused. "It would be morally wrong to back off. I have to give my life now. I am married, I have kids, but morally I have to lay down my life now. If I was shot dead in the morning, I would laugh in my grave."

Wright spent much of his life in the bitterly divided Co Armagh town of Portadown, where he played a leading part in Orange marching disputes in the 1990s. In one incident he ordered the killing of a Catholic taxi-driver.

An Irish government official who met him said his house was "like entering the madam's drawing-room in a brothel. A purple fleecy carpet ran wall-to-wall. A modern touch was provided by the biggest stereo system I've ever seen, and white leather furniture completed the bizarre look."

Although Wright maintained his targets were "the enemies of Ulster" many of the murders in which he is said to have been involved, either as a gunman or planner, were of victims chosen at random.

He was also responsible for the killings of several women, including one who was seven months' pregnant. Another shooting was that of a 76-year-old spinster who was described by a neighbour as "a lovely person, she would not hurt a fly".

Wright spent part of his childhood in a welfare home following the break-up of his parents' marriage. He claimed he turned to violence because of local IRA killings, including some of his relatives. His early convictions included burglary, theft and disorderly behaviour before he graduated to shootings. He was aged 21 when he claimed his first life.

Later he was expelled by his loyalist grouping for refusing to scale down his violence, but instead of leaving Northern Ireland as they demanded he defied them and formed his own organisation, the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

Although he briefly backed the peace process he changed his mind and denounced it as a sell-out.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before