'Wright Tried to Fight off Attackers in Prison Van' Court Hears How Loyalist Leader Died in a Hail of Bullets

By Kelly, Gary | The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), October 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

'Wright Tried to Fight off Attackers in Prison Van' Court Hears How Loyalist Leader Died in a Hail of Bullets


Kelly, Gary, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


THE last moments of LVF leader Billy Wright were described in graphic detail on the first day of the trial of three INLA men accused of his murder.

Christopher "Crip" McWilliams, 35, John Gerard Kennaway, 35, and John Glennon, 32, who appeared at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday, all deny the murder last December 27.

In a statement to the court, prison officer Stephen Sterritt, who sat beside Wright as he was gunned down inside a prison van, said they had talked about the cost of Christmas seconds before the killing.

He then noticed someone trying to open the side door of the van.

"I thought it was a late call-on for a visit. I then heard a lot of shouting but I couldn't make any of it out. At that point the van came to an abrupt halt. The door slid open and McWilliams was standing with a silver handgun.

"He took up a stance, took the gun in both hands and pointed it to my left in the direction of the prisoners. I turned to my right and brought both my hands up to cover my head,'' he said.

The court was told by other witnesses that Wright stood in the van and tried to fight off his attackers but died in a hail of bullets.

In the immediate aftermath of the killing, McWilliams admitted carrying out the shooting to prison officers and a Roman Catholic priest, according to the prosecution.

The Rev John Murphy, brought in to negotiate with Wright's INLA killers, was told by McWilliams: "The guns have been used in an operation. They were successful and there is no more need for them.''

He then told the chaplain: "There were three of us involved. The other prisoners know nothing of the operation and weren't involved.''

The killing of Wright was described by prosecuting counsel Patrick Murphy as daring, depending on split-second timing and carried out in full view of prison officers.

The opportunity for the killers came when Wright was sitting in a prison van waiting to be transported from his wing to the visitors' centre of the prison. …

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