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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Profile: Billy Wright
An inquiry has opened into the circumstances surrounding the death of Billy Wright, the founder of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), who was murdered in the Maze prison in December 1997. So who was he?

Murdered LVF leader Billy Wright
Born 7 July 1960
Joined the UVF at the age of 15
Jailed for six years in 1977
On his release he married and had two children
Resumed his UVF activities in the 1980s and was linked to numerous murders
In 1996 he formed the LVF after being expelled from the UVF
Sent to jail in March 1997 and then transferred to the Maze
27 Dec 1997: Shot dead by three INLA men

Billy Wright was the most terrifying loyalist paramilitary since the Shankill Butchers in the 1970s.

The man nicknamed King Rat - a term coined by journalists on the Sunday World newspaper - waged a bloody and bigoted war against the Catholic population in the Portadown and Lurgan area between the mid 1980s and his death in 1997.

Wright was born in 1960 in Wolverhampton. His namesake - no relation - was a local hero, a Wolves and England football legend.

Billy's father, David, was not a political animal and has said on several occasions that he abhorred sectarian killings.

His parents separated when he was a child and young Billy moved to Northern Ireland with his four sisters.

Grew up with Catholics

The children were put into care and Billy, separated from his sisters, was brought up in a largely nationalist area of south Armagh.

He mixed with Catholics, played Gaelic football.

But the Troubles was at its height and several of his relatives were killed by republicans in the 1970s.

One of them, Jim Wright, a Salvation Army member and former RUC reservist, was blown up by the INLA in July 1979. His funeral was attended by 10,000 people.

In 1976, not long after 10 Protestant workers were murdered by the IRA in the Kingsmill Massacre, Wright joined the youth wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

But he was soon arrested and in 1977 he was jailed for six years for arms offences.

Wright only served just over half his sentence and was released in 1980.

When he came out he married Thelma Corrigan, had two daughters and settled down to work as an insurance salesman in Portadown.

He also claimed to have become a born-again Christian and spent time preaching the gospel.

Linked to killings

But as The Troubles showed no sign of abating, Wright rejoined the UVF and was arrested on several occasions but never charged.

An older, wiser but no less fierce Wright eventually became the UVF's "Mid-Ulster commander" and is thought to have ordered or participated in around 20 killings, most of which were blatantly sectarian.

The IRA and the INLA tried to kill Wright at least five times but he survived unscathed and enhanced his iconic reputation among Portadown loyalists.

By 1991 Wright had also diversified into dealing drugs, which had become a very lucrative sideline.

It was around this time that Sunday World journalists Martin O'Hagan and Jim Campbell coined the term "rat pack" for the UVF's murderous mid-Ulster unit and, unable to identify Wright by name for legal reasons, they christened him "King Rat".

Wright was apparently enraged by the nickname and made numerous threats to O'Hagan and Campbell. The Sunday World's offices were also firebombed.

Fell out with UVF leaders

But Wright was becoming increasingly out of line with the UVF leadership's thinking.

As the peace process gathered he pace he resisted it. He resented the Good Friday Argument and was sceptical of the IRA ceasefire.

He tried to stoke up sectarian hatred around the Orange Order's disputed march through Drumcree in 1996.

On 8 July 1996, with the tension at Drumcree at its height, Wright's men murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan.

The murder was reportedly carried out as a "birthday present" for Wright.

This was the final straw and Wright was expelled from the UVF and ordered to stand down and leave Northern Ireland, along with a UDA member, Alex Kerr.

Christopher McWilliams (in yellow shirt) leaves prison
Christopher McWilliams was one of Wright's killers

But, confident of his own powerbase, he simply set up his own militia and called it the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

Thousands of people attended an impromptu rally in Portadown and Wright spoke out against concessions being made to republicans.

Jailed

The LVF was banned by the government in June 1997 but it went on to murder a number of Catholics.

By then Wright was already in jail.

He was arrested in January 1997 and jailed two months later for eight years in connection with an incident on the Redmanville estate in Portadown.

After an altercation between LVF members and the family of Gwen Read, Wright pulled up alongside her and threatened to kill her if she gave evidence against his men.

Wright was initially sent to Maghaberry prison but in April he was transferred to the Maze and was put on his own wing with a number of other LVF men.

On 27 December 1997 he was led out to a van for a visit with his girlfriend but was shot dead by three INLA men.

Thousands of people turned up for Wright's funeral in Portadown.




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