Paisley ordered to disclose sources in Wright murder probe

Michael McHugh,Press Association
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:02

A Northern Ireland Assembly member was today ordered to disclose his sources in a probe into the prison murder of loyalist leader Billy Wright or face contempt of court proceedings.

Ian Paisley junior could be imprisoned because he is refusing to hand over material about the shooting dead of Mid Ulster gunman Wright in December 1997.

He was served with a High Court summons at Stormont today requiring him to appear before Belfast High Court judge Mr Justice Gillen tomorrow morning.

The Democratic Unionist Party politician was told by a prison officer informant that documents were destroyed after the controversial killing by republicans of the Loyalist Volunteer Force chief.

A public inquiry considering the circumstances surrounding the death wants to probe that allegation.

Mr Paisley said: "I can't give the name of my sources, it would not be the credible thing to do, it would not be the honest thing to do, it would not be the just thing to do."

He faces a range of possible penalties including a fine which could render him bankrupt or a prison term.

"I can't hand over this name, I won't hand over this name, I will take this name to my grave because that's the commitment I gave to my source when the source came to me," he added.

He said the courts understood the dilemma he was in.

"If the courts think it is the sensible and credible thing for them to do, to put a public representative in jail for the first time on the issue of contempt like this, the public would see that as completely and totally over-reacting.

"It is devastating for justice that a public representative doing the right thing be put in jail because of the Billy Wright tribunal."

He added: "I think that would make a laughing stock of the tribunal."

Wright was shot in a prison van as he went to meet a visitor at the Maze high-security jail near Belfast.

Three inmates from republican splinter group the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) was found to be responsible.

The Wright Inquiry, led by Lord MacLean, was announced in November 2004 following claims of security force collusion.

It is investigating how the killers were able to successfully target their victim, including smuggling in arms, and why a prison officer was "stood down" from his post in the watchtower overlooking the wings on the morning of December 27.

Wright, 37, founded the LVF in 1996. He is suspected of involvement in the murders of several Catholics in the Portadown and Lurgan area of Co Armagh between the mid-1980s and his death in December 1997.

Mr Paisley wrote to Wright's father, David, with information that the Northern Ireland Prison Service had employed people to destroy about 5,600 files shortly after his son was shot at the Maze.

Mr Paisley had said he was told of an alleged policy within the Prison Service to destroy a large number of files as an emergency due to data protection legislation.

He said this information, which was provided by a "senior prison officer", claimed that the decision to destroy the files was "taken at the top".

He added today: "I am defending the rights of ordinary men and women. It would be incredibly poor and bad judgment by anyone to punish a public representative for doing that."