The official inquiry into the murder of Loyalist terrorist Billy Wright in the Maze Prison found that there was no “state collusion” in his killing, Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said today.
But Mr Paterson told the British House of Commons that there had been “serious failings” within the prison which “facilitated” Wright’s death in December 1997, although these were due to “negligence” and were not intentional.
“His murder in a high security prison should never have happened. It was wrong and I am sincerely sorry that failings in the system facilitated his murder,” Mr Paterson said.
The inquiry report released today said a review of the North's prison service similar to Lord Patten’s police overhaul should be launched.
Wright, the leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) splinter group who was allegedly linked to up to 20 murders, was sitting in the back of a prison van waiting to be taken to meet his visiting girlfriend when he was shot seven times.
Three republican prisoners belonging to the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) were implicated in the killing.
Mr Paterson said that the inquiry panel found that the decision to allocate Wright and the LVF faction to H-Block 6 where the INLA were being held was a “wrongful act” which directly facilitated his murder.
The prison authorities also failed to strengthen roof defences at the jail, failed to ensure the exercise yards were checked and secured each night, and failed to carry out full risk assessment before LVF members were moved to the block.
“Overall the panel identified a serious failure on the part of the Northern Ireland Prison Service and its chief executive to deal with recognised management problems in HMP Maze in 1997,” Mr Paterson said.