Billy Wright Inquiry

On 27 December 1997, Billy Wright, leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), was killed by the Irish Nationalist Liberation Army (INLA).  He was murdered as he sat in a prison van at Long Kesh/Maze Prison, waiting to be transferred from the H Blocks to the visitor area.

This Inquiry was initially established under Section 7 of the Prisons Act (Northern Ireland) 1953. However, on 23rd November 2005 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Peter Hain MP, converted the Inquiry so that it be held under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Its terms of reference were:
“To inquire into the death of Billy Wright with a view to determining whether any wrongful act or omission by or within the prison authorities or other state agencies facilitated his death, or whether attempts were made to do so; whether any such act or omission was intentional or negligent; and to make recommendations.”

The Inquiry Panel members were The Rt Hon Lord MacLean, a retired Appellate judge from Scotland (Chairman), Professor Andrew Coyle CMG, Professor of Prison Studies in the School of Law, King’s College, University of London and the Rt Rev John Oliver, former Bishop of Hereford.

The full public hearings were held at Banbridge Court House, Victoria Street, County Down. They commenced on 30 May 2007 and the hearings concluded after 156 days on 2 July 2009.

The Billy Wright Inquiry delivered its report on 14 September 2010. CAJ published the following commentary in response:

The Billy Wright Inquiry did not adopt the same definition of collusion as that used by Judge Cory; attempts to adopt this definition were defended in the body of this report.

The Inquiry stated that although specific reference was not made to collusion in its terms of reference, these terms “would amply cover the situation ... without having to resort to the words ‘collusion’ or ‘collusive.’” In its report, the Inquiry commented they “had at the forefront of our minds our understanding of collusion and the possibility that individuals within state agencies behaved collusively or committed collusive acts which could be said to have facilitated Billy Wright’s death.” The Inquiry, though, was never “persuaded that in any instance there was evidence of collusive acts or collusive conduct.”

Though initially established under the Prisons (Northern Ireland) Act 1953, the Inquiry was converted to one under the Inquiries Act 2005. This was met with resistance by Billy Wright’s family. A judicial review seeking to quash this decision was successful before the High Court on 21 December 2006 but was reversed by the Court of Appeal on 28 June 2007. Challenges were also made to the Inquiry’s terms of reference, the Chairman’s ruling on the questioning of witnesses and the posting of transcripts on its website.

The Inquiry took five years to fulfil its remit due to the complexity of the subject matter, large volume of material, and the difficulties in recovering and considering material. Having detailed the historical and political landscape, the Inquiry focused on the role of the NIPS, RUC, security service and army. In considering the part of the NIPS, the Inquiry concluded that its failure to operate a proper system of prisoner classification in the Maze made it very difficult to exercise appropriate supervision of those prisoners who required the highest level of staff supervision. They specifically criticised the failure to classify Christopher McWilliams and John Kenneway as top risk prisoners after they held a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in 1997.

 Among its conclusions, the Inquiry also noted that the failure to strengthen roof defences in H Block 6 and the failure to ensure that the exercise yards were secured and checked each night, the failure of the NIPS to provide staff with clear operational instructions for daily practice, the failure on the part of the NIPS and its Chief Executive to deal with recognised management problems in the Maze and the failure to seek risk assessments about republican threats to Billy Wright and the return of the LVF to H6, all constituted wrongful omissions on their part which facilitated Billy Wright’s death.

The Inquiry was also critical of the failure to implement many of the recommendations of the Steele Report which followed the discovery of a tunnel in the Maze; lack of implementation constituted a wrongful omission which facilitated the murder of Billy Wright. In its recommendations, the Inquiry highlighted the need for a Patten style process to “pave the way for radical change in the way that the NIPS is managed.” It is noteworthy that 6 days of hearing were required to address the failure of the Prison Service to provide crucial documentary evidence. The Billy Wright Inquiry noted that a large number of documents had been destroyed before the start of the inquiry though “no explanation emerged in the evidence as to how the two firearms were introduced into the prison and put into the hands of his INLA murderers.” It stated that the withholding of material “cost the Inquiry several months” delay in its work.

It also noted that the apparent lack of co-operation between Special Branch and CID was highlighted “reflecting a culture of secrecy and confidentiality which was endemic.” The Inquiry criticised the PSNI’s lack of adequate and effective systems for information management, dissemination and retention and also noted that in certain cases there was a suspicion that this “amounted to deliberate malpractice which involved the destruction of audit trails and the concealment of evidence.” It criticised the RUC’s failure to take any action over the critical threat of April 1997 and noted that its failure to communicate intelligence was a wrongful omission which facilitated Billy Wright’s death. The Inquiry rejected the allegation of collusion levied against the Security Service.

Full details about the Inquiry can be found at:

Summaries from the Billy Wright Inquiry hearings

Day 1 - 6 (PDF, 113 KB)

Day 7 - 8 (PDF, 135 KB)

Day 9 - 11 (PDF, 129 KB)

Day 12 - 13 (PDF, 134 KB)

Day 14 (PDF, 121 KB)

Day 15 (PDF, 93 KB)

Day 16 (PDF, 103 KB)

Day 17 - 18 (PDF, 148 KB)

Day 19 - 20 (PDF, 98 KB)

Day 21 (PDF, 147 KB)

Day 22 (PDF, 37 KB)

Day 23 - 27 (PDF, 91 KB)

Day 28 - 29 (PDF, 102 KB)

Day 30 (PDF, 135 KB)

Day 31 (PDF, 119 KB)

Day 32 (PDF, 80 KB)

Day 33 (PDF, 91 KB)

Day 34 (PDF, 132 KB)

Day 35 (PDF, 81 KB)

Day 36 (PDF, 76 KB)

Day 37 (PDF, 178 KB)

Day 38 (PDF, 196 KB)

Day 39 (PDF, 65 KB)

Day 40 (PDF, 108 KB)

Day 41 (PDF, 155 KB)

Day 42 (PDF, 72 KB)

Day 43 (PDF, 71 KB)

Day 44 (PDF, 68 KB)

Day 45 (PDF, 71 KB)

Day 46 (PDF, 73 KB)

Day 47 (PDF, 68 KB)

Day 48 (PDF, 12 KB)

Day 49 (PDF, 15 KB)

Day 50 (PDF, 73 KB)

Day 51 (PDF, 58 KB)

Day 52-58 (PDF, 113 KB)

Day 59-61 (PDF, 85 KB)

Day 62 (PDF, 121 KB)

Day 63 (PDF, 224 KB)

Day 64 (PDF, 185 KB)

Day 65 (PDF, 168 KB)

Day 66 (PDF, 76 KB)

Day 67 (PDF, 171 KB)

Day 68 (PDF, 53 KB)

Day 69 (PDF, 48 KB)

Day 70 (PDF, 115 KB)

Day 71 (PDF, 166 KB)

Day 72 (PDF, 70 KB)

Day 73 (PDF, 66 KB)

Day 74 (PDF, 59 KB)

Day 75 (PDF, 59 KB)

Day 76 (PDF, 69 KB)

Day 78 (PDF, 173 KB)

Day 79 (PDF, 71 KB)

Day 80 (PDF, 173 KB)

Day 81 (PDF, 68 KB)

Day 82 (PDF, 72 KB)

Day 83 (PDF, 56 KB)

Day 84 (PDF, 61 KB)

Day 85 (PDF, 73 KB)

Day 86 (PDF, 62 KB)

Day 87 (PDF, 69 KB)

Day 88 (PDF, 66 KB)

Day 89 (PDF, 67 KB)

Day 90 (PDF, 69 KB)

Day 91 (PDF, 68 KB)

Day 92 (PDF, 60 KB)

Day 93 (PDF, 70 KB)

Day 94 (PDF, 69 KB)

Day 95 (PDF, 63 KB)

Day 96 (PDF, 116 KB)

Day 97 (PDF, 83 KB)

Day 98 (PDF, 171 KB)

Day 99 (PDF, 172 KB)

Day 100 (PDF, 69 KB)

Day 101 (PDF, 225 KB)

Day 102 (PDF, 46 KB)

Day 103 (PDF, 117 KB)

Day 104 (PDF, 80 KB)

Day 105 (PDF, 169 KB)

Day 106 (PDF, 61 KB)

Day 107 (PDF, 117 KB)

Day 108 (PDF, 69 KB)

Day 109 (PDF, 73 KB)

Day 110 (PDF, 110 KB)

Day 111 (PDF, 59 KB)

Day 112 (PDF, 71 KB)

Day 113 (PDF, 69 KB)

Day 114 (PDF, 63 KB)

Day 115 - 120 (PDF, 108 KB)

Day 121 - 124 (PDF, 219 KB)

Day 125 (PDF, 62 KB)

Day 126 - 127 (PDF, 213 KB)

Day 128 (PDF, 107 KB)

Day 129 (PDF, 4 KB)

Day 130 (PDF, 4 KB)

Day 131 (PDF, 59 KB)

Day 132 (PDF, 57 KB)

Day 133 (PDF, 62 KB)

Day 134 (PDF, 10 KB)

Day 135 (PDF, 61 KB)

Day 136 (PDF, 53 KB)

Day 137 (PDF, 62 KB)

Day 138 (PDF, 58 KB)

Day 139 (PDF, 66 KB)

Day 140 (PDF, 175 KB)

Day 141 (PDF, 53 KB)

Day 142 (PDF, 60 KB)

Day 143 (PDF, 62 KB)

Day 144 (PDF, 62 KB)

Day 145 (PDF, 60 KB)

Day 146 (PDF, 55 KB)

Day 147 (PDF, 61 KB)

Day 148 (PDF, 67 KB)

Day 149 (PDF, 178 KB)

Day 150 (PDF, 7 KB)

Day 151 (PDF, 56 KB)

Day 152 (PDF, 61 KB)

Day 153 (PDF, 119 KB)

Day 154 (PDF, 60 KB)

Day 155 (PDF, 88 KB)

Day 156 (PDF, 77 KB)