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1997: Loyalist leader murdered in prison

A leading protestant paramilitary, Billy Wright, has been shot dead at the maximum security Maze prison in Northern Ireland.

Wright was the leader of a dissident paramilitary group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, one of several Protestant militias that want Northern Ireland to remain in British hands.

It is understood he was shot several times by prisoners of the Irish splinter republican group the Irish National Liberation Army, INLA.

They had climbed onto the roof of a prison block before making their way to a compound where Protestant inmates were being held.

Reports suggest Wright was shot at about 1000 GMT while he was seated in a van waiting to be transferred to a visitor's centre.

The prisoners surrendered to prison staff without a struggle and were arrested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Undermining peace

Three men are being questioned about the shooting and two guns have been recovered.

Both republican and loyalist leaders have called for calm and have appealed for no retaliation to prevent undermining the peace agreement any further.

The shooting comes at a time of heightened tension over lack of progress in multi-party peace talks on Northern Ireland.

The Prison Service said in a brief statement an investigation about how the weapons were brought into the jail was under way.

INLA inmates are being moved from the cells in H Block Six to other areas in the jail to enable a full scale search.

Wright, who survived several previous attempts on his life, was jailed in March for threatening to kill a woman.

The murder of the man known as "King Rat" is the latest in a series of security lapses at the prison.

There was an uprising by loyalist prisoners in April and May this year following a failed mass escape attempt by members of the IRA.

Earlier this month an IRA prisoner escaped while dressed as a female visitor.

In Context
Billy Wright had been linked to many sectarian killings of Catholics but when he was jailed he was placed in a block housing republican INLA prisoners.

Three prisoners, members of the INLA, shot Wright at least three times before turning themselves in.

Speculation as to how they managed to carry out his assassination near prison guards grew.

A security camera that may have spotted the gunmen was out of operation while a watchtower was unmanned.

The official report into the killing failed to establish how the guns got into the prison.

A public inquiry into the killing was announced in November 2004. It is expected to continue until September 2007.


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