03 May 2006

Wright inquiry further delayed

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
03 May 2006

Crucial police documents about the murder of Billy Wright have not been handed over to the inquiry into the LVF leader's killing - almost six months after the PSNI was given a 28-day order to give them up.

The PSNI's failure to hand over all its paperwork is one of the reasons behind a second six-month delay to the full start of the inquiry.

Lord MacLean, the inquiry chairman, indicated last week that hearings will not begin until the spring of 2007 - a year later than intended, three years after the inquiry was announced and almost a full decade after the murder.

Announcing the delay, he indicated the failure to hand over documents "has slowed down the Inquiry's work".

MI5 may also be holding on to documents, but the Home Office refused to discuss the matter.

Both police Special Branch and MI5 knew of threats against notorious loyalist Billy Wright before he was shot dead by INLA prisoners in the top security Maze Prison in 1997.

The judge who recommended the inquiry, retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, said he could not establish if those warnings were passed on to prison authorities.

"In light of the specific nature of some of the threats to kill Billy Wright, it may well be that a failure to alert prison authorities to this intelligence would constitute a collusive act since it could amount to turning a blind eye to a situation of real and imminent danger," he wrote in 2003.

The Prison Service and the NIO confirmed last week that they have handed over all papers requested by the inquiry.

A PSNI spokeswoman said: "The PSNI have forwarded substantial material to the inquiry to date and will continue to forward material requested in accordance with the terms of the notice."

The situation could turn into a test for the controversial Inquiries Act, which is another reason for the delay in hearings.

Billy Wright's father, David, is mounting a High Court challenge to the use of the Act, because of the powers it gives Ministers to keep information secret.

However, Lord MacLean asked for the Inquiries Act to be applied to the case because he said it would give the inquiry greater powers to get evidence from Government agencies.

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