RUC questioning 18 over party killing in Belfast

EIGHTEEN people, including at least two women, were still being questioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary following the horrific killing this week of a 31-year-old woman in Belfast.

Police believe the woman, Margaret Wright, was savagely beaten and shot dead in a loyalist drinking club because her assailants believed she was Catholic. In fact, she was a Protestant from a staunchly loyalist part of the city.

Her killing has shocked even a city hardened by more than 1,500 killings in the past two-and-a-half decades. Her violent death was all the more poignant because it took place during the 72-hour IRA ceasefire, which ended at midnight last night.

Criminal charges are expected to be brought against a number of people next week, though detectives were uncertain yesterday whether there was enough evidence to substantiate murder charges.

Miss Wright's mother, Evelyn, described her killers as scum and said she hoped that they would suffer as they had made her daughter suffer. Miss Wright, who could not work because she suffered from epilepsy, was a regular church attender, but people who knew her said she suffered bouts of depression because of her condition and sometimes drank heavily.

It is believed she went with another woman to a hall in the south of the city, which is used by a loyalist flute band but which has recently been used for all-night parties. Locals said there had been complaints about noise, drinking and drug-taking at the premises.

Around 20 people are thought to have been in the hall when Miss Wright was beaten. Brush shafts and pool cues are among items taken away for forensic examination. She was subsequently shot several times in the head before her body was wheeled away in a bin and tossed over the yard wall of an empty house.

The family has received messages of sympathy from both Catholics and Protestants. The two main loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, yesterday distanced themselves from the killings, with the UVF saying all drinking dens in loyalist areas had 72 hours to close.

A Protestant minister who knew Miss Wright said she sometimes became depressed because of her epilepsy, which she found a hard burden to carry.

The Rev James Lemon, a Methodist minister in the area where Miss Wright was killed, last night organised a public meeting to condemn the killing.

He said: 'The feeling here has run through all the various emotions that people have - anger, grief, sympathy, all mixed up.'