McLean inquiry dismisses collusion in Wright murder

A narrow definition of collusion leads McLean to reject alleged involvement of prison officers in Wright murder. By Malachy Browne

The McLean inquiry into the murder of loyalist paramilitary Billy Wright has found "no evidence of collusion by state agencies or of any deliberate wrongdoing". Lord McLean said in a statement today that any failings of prison officers leading up to the murder "were the result of negligence rather than of deliberate acts". The Inquiry also found "nothing sinister" in the destruction of files on Maze prisoners.

[Report embedded below]

The McLean Inquiry was established on the recommendation of a previous investigation into collusion conducted by retired Canadian Justice Peter Cory. Both inquiries investigated allegations that prison officers were complicit in the murder of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright. It is alleged that the prison service knowingly put Wright in harm's way, leaked information to republican prisoners who previously attempted to murder Wright, and overlooked breaches in security that facilitated the murder. (See: The death of King Rat Billy Wright)

Lord McLeanMcLean's (pictured right) conclusion differs from the 2004 Cory Collusion Inquiry which found "sufficient evidence of collusive acts by prison authorities to warrant the holding of a public inquiry".

The difference arises though Lord McLean's rejection of Cory's terms of reference. Cory's remit was "to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of collusion between state security forces and those responsible for the murder of Billy Wright to warrant a public inquiry". Cory defined collusion as "to deliberately ignore; to overlook, to disregard; to pass over; to take no notice of; to turn a blind eye; to wink; to excuse; to condone; to look the other way; to let something ride".

He said:

"Because of the necessity for public confidence in Government agencies the definition of collusion must be reasonably broad when it is applied to their actions."

"Prison services must not act collusively by ignoring or turning a blind eye to the wrongful acts of their officers or of their servants or agents. Nor can the prison services act collusively by supplying information to assist those committing wrongful acts or by encouraging them to commit wrongful acts."

Cory concluded by saying:

"Any lesser definition would have the effect of condoning, or even encouraging, state involvement in crimes, thereby shattering all public confidence in important Government agencies."

However, McLean rejected Cory's "wide" definition of collusion in favour of the following definition: the existence of "an agreement or arrangement between individuals or organisations, including government departments, to achieve an unlawful or improper purpose".

The terms of reference for the McLean Inquiry did not include the word 'collusion', which is strange considering McLean was established on foot of the Cory Collusion Inquiry.

Instead, McLean's remit was to determine "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".

McLean concluded that the actions of some agencies and individuals did facilitate Wright's murder, but that this conduct was not collusive.

Cory recommendation for another investigation

The Cory Collusion Inquiry recommended a further inquiry into the involvement of prison officers into Wright's death based on the following findings:

  • The transfer of Billy Wright with other LVF prisoners to H Block 6 when INLA prisoners including Wright's eventual murderers were housed in the same Block. Cory wrote that "this act must be considered in light of the lack of control and security in the Maze, particularly the ease of access to the roof, and the violent nature of these rival factions (the LVF and the INLA)". This action in and of itself, is sufficient evidence of collusion to warrant the holding of a public inquiry.
  • The apparent turning of a blind eye to the warnings of officers regarding dangers of housing INLA and LVF factions in the same H Block.
  • The threats from INLA to murder Billy Wright. (Wright was transferred to the Maze following an attempt on his life in Maghaberry prison. Six days after Wright's transfer, two of his killers were also transferred from Maghaberry to the Maze. They were housed in the same Block as Wright).
  • The failure to take any steps to protect Billy Wright, either by moving the LVF or by improving security in H Block 6.
  • The possession of firearms by McWilliams and Kennaway (Wright's killers) while they were located in H Block 6 after it was known that they had obtained firearms in Maghaberry with a view to killing Billy Wright.
  • The circulation of the lists of visits for both the INLA and LVF prisoners on the 27 December 1997.
  • The standing down of the guard for the Observation Tower overlooking A and B wings (Wright's killers escaped their confines beneath this tower to reach Wright on the morning he was murdered)
  • The failure to have repaired or replaced the important but malfunctioning camera overlooking A and B wings.
  • The positioning of the van (transporting Wright to the LVF prisoner area) in the forecourt of H6 on the morning of the murder.
  • The cumulative effect of incidents above.

Further questions arise as to how a hole in a security fence through which the killers passed was unobserved by prison officers and not recorded by the malfunctioning security camera.

Retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter CoryPeter Cory was appointed in 2002 to specifically investigate collusion of state agencies in the murder of Billy Wright, Pat Finucane, Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson. He delivered his findings in April 2004. His remit was restricted; he had no power of subpoena and could therefore not summon documents or witnesses.

Considering Wright's history, the death threats from unionist paramilitaries and the attempt by republican paramilitaries, there is serious cause to suggest the many security blunders that facilitated Wright's murder are more than coincidence.

Had Cory in 2002 been given the resources spent by McLean - £30m (€36m) -, had Cory had the power of subpoena, and had his terms of reference on collusion remained the same, it is perhaps likely that a different conclusion would have been reached. However, it was always going to be difficult to indict individual prison officers.

The complete report by Lord McLean's Inquiry:

Billy Wright Inquiry 2010