Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 17:37 UK

People under threat 'not warned'

Billy Wright
Billy Wright was shot dead in the Maze prison in 1997

RUC Special Branch systematically failed to warn people under threat, the Billy Wright Inquiry has heard.

The claim was made by Vincent McFadden, senior investigating officer with the Stevens Inquiry which examined alleged loyalist and security force collusion.

He said the team had gathered evidence that more than 250 people were never told they were being targeted, some of whom were later killed or injured.

The inquiry is examining the murder of the LVF leader in prison in 1997.

Mr McFadden outlined how the Stevens Inquiry team had examined the handling of intelligence about threats to 255 people, the vast majority of whom were Catholic.

'Guilty by association'

He said they all had real or perceived connections to paramilitary groups - and that often it was a case of "guilty by association" because an individual had been seen in the company of a member of a paramilitary organisation.

The retired officer said there was no evidence that any of them had been warned they were under threat.

Mr McFadden also told the inquiry that senior Special Branch officers told his team that records on some of these individuals either did not exist or had been destroyed - only for the records to be found years later.

Alan Kane QC, who represents Billy Wright's father, referred to "the symptoms of the disease of collusion" uncovered by the Stevens Inquiry.

The barrister said these symptoms included not acting on intelligence, withholding intelligence, a failure to keep records and an absence of accountability.

He asked Mr McFadden if he believed these symptoms still existed at the time Billy Wright was killed. Mr McFadden replied: "Yes."

'Duty of care'

While the Stevens team did not examine the circumstances surrounding the murder of Billy Wright inside the Maze Prison in December 1997, Mr McFadden said that based on witness statements, he believed there was a lack of duty of care for the life of the loyalist paramilitary leader.

However, under questioning by barristers for the police and the security services, he said his understanding of the evidence was only superficial.

Mr McFadden also said the Stevens team did not have any evidence of a threat to Wright prior to his death.

He said it "didn't take a rocket scientist" to know that there was a threat to the LVF leader and that it should have been taken seriously.

The Billy Wright Inquiry was set up following an investigation by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory into allegations of collusion by the prison service and other authorities.

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