Hundreds of guards will be left in charge of 16 prisoners

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The Independent Online

At its height, the Maze held 1,800 prisoners. After Friday there will be just 16 left, guarded by a staff of 750. Those staying behind following this week's mass exodus are not expected to remain at the Maze for long. Many of them will be freed in the next few months and a few will be transferred to other prisons.

At its height, the Maze held 1,800 prisoners. After Friday there will be just 16 left, guarded by a staff of 750. Those staying behind following this week's mass exodus are not expected to remain at the Maze for long. Many of them will be freed in the next few months and a few will be transferred to other prisons.

The ones being kept behind had committed offences after the timescale laid down by the Good Friday Agreement.

They include the Irish National Liberation Army men who murdered loyalist leader Billy "King Rat" Wright inside the prison in 1997. But the three, Christopher "Crip" McWilliams, John Kennaway and John Glennon, are expected to be released by October.

Others ineligible for early release include dissidents on both sides - the Real IRA, Continuity IRA on the nationalist side, and the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders for the loyalists.

These inmates are not allowed to organise internal paramilitary units, unlike the other mainstream groups.

Most of the remaining prisoners are expected to be moved to Maghaberry Jail. One prison service source said what happens to them after remains uncertain.

The killers of Billy Wright are the only high-profile prisoners who will not be walking out at the end of this week.

The murder has always been shrouded in mystery, loyalists accusing the authorities of collusion. LVS men have threatened to take retribution on the three INLA men at the earliest opportunity.

Most of those not freed this week are believed to be minor figures in the paramilitary movements and no significant campaigns had been organised on their behalf.

These prisoners who are members of the loyalist volunteer force are to ask the authorities to reconsider their position because the organisation is maintaining a cease fire. John White, a former inmate of the Maze, now prominent in the Ulster Democratic Party, has asked that once the prisoners left behind are moved to other jails they should be allowed to organise themselves on paramilitary lines.

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