The report also reveals that the INLA got the go-ahead from the Provos before assassinating Wright inside the Maze Prison
The top-secret dossier – compiled by a now-retired intelligence officer – also reveals that the INLA got the go-ahead from the Provos before assassinating Wright inside the Maze Prison.
The report was passed to our reporters this week on the 25th anniversary of Wright’s killing, as supporters of the former terror godfather gathered at his grave in Portadown’s Seagoe Cemetery.
Loyalists travelled from across Northern Ireland to attend the event which was addressed by UDA double killer Pastor Kenny McClinton. In a firebrand address, McClinton described his deceased friend as “Ulster’s Braveheart”.
And he insisted Wright wasn’t – contrary to popular belief – intent on continuing his terror war.
But the graveside tributes were condemned by relatives of Wright’s victims.
A former UVF ‘Brigadier’ in Mid-Ulster, Wright ditched the terror group to set up his own more militant organisation, the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
He was shot dead inside the high-security Maze Prison 25 years ago this week by an INLA murder gang as he sat in the rear of a prison minibus preparing for a post-Christmas visit with his wife and children.
The three-man hit team – led by killer Christopher ‘Crip’ McWilliams – ambushed Wright who was caught unawares.
A smiling McWilliams shouted “armed INLA volunteers” before opening fire with a Hungarian-made automatic pistol.
Despite being shot, Wright stood up and lashed out at his assassin with his feet, but he was no match for the INLA firepower and he collapsed on the van floor.
An inquiry into the murder reported in 2010 that there was no evidence of collusion between the authorities and the INLA, but it did find failings in the prison system. Under Wright’s command, the Mid-Ulster Brigade had been responsible for up to 20 murders, many of them innocent Catholics.
And following his death two days after Christmas 1997, LVF terrorists responded by killing 14 Catholics.
But a log compiled by a former British Army intelligence officer – and published today for the first time – will further encourage loyalist claims that Wright’s murder was facilitated by British agents.
The hand-written journal states that on December 16, 1997 – 11 days before the Wright murder – British spooks observed a delegation of INLA leaders had been visiting their comrades in the Maze.
And Army chiefs believe it was at this meeting that INLA leaders gave the go-ahead to kill Wright inside HMP Maze.
A day later, Army intelligence officers in Belfast also noted other INLA men met IRA leaders from Ardoyne to make them aware of the Wright murder plot.
An intelligence officer is quoted in the journal as saying it would have been “politically insensitive – exceptionally foolish – of them (INLA) to carry out a military operation without PIRA consent”.
One insertion in the intelligence officer’s journal states: “Very interesting grouping. Indicates high-level meeting of INLA visit to Maze to liaise with INLA prisoners. Visit of PIRA members from Ardoyne to INLA Cos (commanding officers). The only recorded sighting of them together.”
The journal goes on to claim the authorities had prior knowledge of the INLA plot to murder Wright inside the high-security prison.
In a recorded telephone call to his mother’s home in Belfast days before the killing, ‘Crip’ McWilliams clearly stated he would kill ‘The Rat’.
And it is believed the INLA prisoner had said the similar thing in a previous call to another female friend, which was also recorded.
A note referring to the INLA threat on Wright states: “The prison authorities had prior knowledge that Crip was a threat to BW’s life.”
A note relating to another audio recording made in Maghaberry before McWilliams was transferred to the Maze states: “M/berry held an audio recording of Crip McWilliams telephone call to a female saying he would ‘kill the rat’.”
The recorded material, the journal states, was handed over to the police, but it wasn’t used in evidence at the subsequent trial of the INLA murder gang.
In another recorded telephone call made five days after the Wright murder, McWilliams – the journal states – sounded excited. And he laughed as he graphically recalled in detail how he killed Wright in the rear of the prison van.
A male voice speaking to McWilliams told him: “You’re the executioner.”
The intelligence officer noted how McWilliams came across as “extremely violent and extremely boastful” in the recorded call.
‘Crip’ McWilliams died of cancer in 2008 aged 44 in Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.
Originally from Ballymurphy in west Belfast, he had a long history of republican paramilitary involvement dating back to his early teens.
He had served lengthy prison sentences for serious terrorist offences including the murder of a doorman in a city centre bar who had refused him entry.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, McWilliams and his co-accused John Kennaway and John ‘Sonny’ Glennon served only two years behind bars for the murder of Wright.
This week, loyalists gathered at Wright’s grave to commemorate the feared loyalist killer.
Organisers asked those attending to set aside any differences they may have to remember a man who “had laid down his life for his country”.
Following the event, a former Protestant paramilitary prisoner – who knew Billy Wright well – told theSunday World many loyalists were convinced the INLA killed Wright because British secret service spooks had made it easy for them.
He said: “There is absolutely no doubt about that. You have to look at the whole process.
“You have to go to the very start of the talks when a guy called Lindsay Robb – who was later murdered in Glasgow – he was a spokesman for the mid-Ulster UVF, so he was a public spokesman for Billy Wright who was the leader.
“Everyone knew Billy wasn’t happy with the direction of the talks. He believed it was a sell-out. Everyone else was on board except the mid-Ulster UVF.
“Lindsay Robb was still representing mid-Ulster at the talks. He stood up at one of the meetings, where he read out a prepared statement on behalf of the mid-Ulster UVF.
“He stated clearly, mid-Ulster didn’t support the direction and they weren’t prepared to support it. It was obvious he was speaking on behalf of Billy Wright.
“Within weeks, if not days, Lindsay Robb was trapped in an MI5 sting where he was caught with an AK-47 assault rifle in Falkirk. He was sentenced to 10 years.
“And then the spotlight turned on Billy Wright. The UVF leadership knew it couldn’t move directly against Billy Wright, but it decided to scare the living daylights out of him.
“It organised a show of strength for the cameras. The masked UVF volunteers posed with real – not replica – AK assault rifles and Billy was given three days to leave the country,” he said.
But according to our source, the UVF leadership threat backfired. “It was a powerful message, but they shot themselves in the foot. It never happened. They never realised how popular Billy was with grassroots loyalism, not just in mid-Ulster, but all over.”
A short time later, Wright was arrested for issuing threats against a woman and received an eight-year sentence.
Said our source: “They were determined to get Billy off the streets and get the peace process up and running.”
Many loyalists are convinced it was the authorities’ decision to move Billy Wright from Maghaberry Prison to the Maze which also gave the INLA an invitation to kill him.
“The INLA was the only paramilitary group not on ceasefire and it meant when Billy Wright arrived in the Maze, he was a sitting duck for them,” said our source.
He added: “You can say what you like about Billy Wright, but that man was set up by the British state and this intelligence officer’s journal is just further proof.”