The public inquiry into the murder of the notorious unionist paramilitary leader Billy ‘The Rat’ Wright inside Long Kesh Prison almost nine years ago began in Belfast this week.
Wright was killed by three members of the (INLA) Irish National Liberation Army in circumstances which give rise to unionist allegations that they acted in collusion with prison authorities.
On 27 December 1997, Wright had just got into a prison van to be taken to the visitor’s area of the jail, when the prisoners from the INLA climbed over the roof of the H-block and into the prison yard where they were able to mount the attack.
The legal team representing relatives of Wright have been seeking a number of specific documents from the prison from the time of the murder.
However, it emerged at the inquiry that the relevant files on the prisoners were destroyed, ostensibly in connection with the requirements of Britain’s Freedom of Information Act. Responsibility for the destruction of the files was laid at the feet of a prison governor who has since died.
The Inquiry heard the destruction was “contrary to the Prison Service’s own policy and in face of an agreement with the Public Records Office”, and had been carried out without written authority and without leaving a paper trail, and for what the Wright family’s legal team called “questionable reasons”.
It also became clear at the inquiry that documents other than security files were no longer available.
Records for contract work awarded in every year back to the 1980s were available - except 1997. Also unavailable were documents on how the prison was managed in 1997 as well as details of prison staffing arrangements.