The Inside Story: the INLA execution of “King Rat”

What follows is a specific account of the Irish National Liberation Army operation to execute Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Wright on the morning of 27th of December 1997.

Before detailing the actual specifics of the operation it is necessary to highlight the work undertaken by INLA intelligence.

The plan was to provide the prison officers on duty in H Block 6 the opportunity to spot the INLA Active Service Unit as soon as the operation got underway.

Intelligence had shown that the ASU would have been likely to have been spotted as they were attempting to pass through the hole in the fence in A wing exercise yard, as this movement would have served immediately to attract the attention of the prison officer occupying the observation post overlooking the immediate area.

In response to seeing the INLA ASU breaching the fence the prison officer would have automatically activated the alarm. Once the alarm had been activated normal procedure would have been to stop all movement in the block, all gates would have been locked down automatically and therefore movement could not recommence until the alarm alert had been investigated by the prison authorities.

Had this been the case on the morning of 27th December 1997, the van containing Billy Wright would have had to remain immobile inside the Block forecourt until the alarm had been cleared.

This delay would have presented the ASU with added time to successfully complete the operation. As it happened unknown to the INLA ASU the observation post was unoccupied that morning, but the split second timing of the operation insured that the ASU did not require the extra time.

Nothing would have prevented the INLA ASU completing their mission once they had breached the fence in A wing yard whether an alert had been raised or not was irrelevant as by that time the target would have already been sitting in the visiting bus in the forecourt as the operation began.

The operation that removed the threat of British loyalism’s most effective sectarian killer took less than 90 seconds from start to finish.


The day began with all three volunteers assigned to the ASU being put on standby from 8.00am that morning.

The entire ASU were by this stage fully familiar with their assigned roles in the operation. Following the morning headcount by block prison officers, all three volunteers acted as normal, taking breakfast in the canteen quarters of A Wing.

Whilst there, a table was placed under the window of the canteen which overlooked the forecourt of H Block 6 with the entrance being clearly in view. That morning two prison visit vans were clearly in view from this position.

Following breakfast, Vol. Christopher ‘Crip’ McWilliams and Vol. John ‘Sonny’ Glennon proceeded to arm themselves with weapons from the INLA arms dump.

The two weapons, one .38 calibre Makarov PA63 semi automatic pistol and one modified .22 Derringer pistol (one barrel of the Derringer had been found to be non-operational during a test fire.)

The two pistols were fully loaded.

On having inspected the weapons both volunteers returned with them concealed down their waist bands to the A wing canteen to meet with volunteer John Kennaway. The three volunteers staged one final briefing, checking signals, arrangements and so forth.

At approximately 9.00am Vol. Glennon moved into position purporting to be painting a wall mural in the sterile area of A and B wing. His position provided him with a clear line of sight across both the circle and the entrance of the LVF wings. In the event Billy Wright was sighted making his way to attend a visit, a pre-arranged code was to be issued to alert Vol. McWilliams and Vol. Kennaway. The code to be issued was as follows;

If Billy Wright passed into the circle with one other LVF prisoner then Vol. Glennon was to shout down the INLA wings from his position: “Pass me the paints out of cell two”. Vol. McWilliams and Kennaway would have known from this signal that Wright was with one other LVF prisoner entering the block circle on their way to visits. In the event of the code being “Pass me the paints from cell three,” then this would have denoted three LVF prisoners entering the Block circle on their way to visits.

The reason for the issuance of codes in this manner was to equip the ASU with up-to-the-minute intelligence as to the number of LVF prisoners they were likely to confront and subdue in order to execute the operation successfully.

At approximately 9.40am, Volunteer Glennon, while panting the mural, armed with the concealed Derringer pistol, overheard the intercom buzzing - this placed him on alert. He proceeded to watch as a prison officer approached the grills leading to the LVF wings to speak to a LVF prisoner. A prisoner was then heard to shout down the LVF wings “C’mon Billy, that’s us for a visit.” On hearing this, Vol. Glennon continued as normal painting the wall mural. Whilst doing so he heard the buzzers indicating the opening of the LVF grilles. As he watched the grilles open, Vol. Glennon spotted Billy Wright and another LVF prisoner entering the block circle from the LVF wing.

Volunteer Glennon proceeded to shout the code signal down the INLA wings, “pass me the paints out of cell two.” Immediately on doing this Vol. Glennon left the wall mural to enter the canteen on A Wing. Once there he proceeded to stand on the table situated beneath the window overlooking the block forecourt.

Volunteers McWilliams and Kennaway on hearing the first signal moved into position at the turnstile of A wing exercise yard awaiting a second signal from Volunteer Glennon. This second pre-arranged was not to be given until Volunteer Glennon was sure that Billy Wright had entered the prison van in the forecourt of H block 6.


Immediately after seeing Wright enter the prison van in the forecourt, Volunteer Glennon shouted the second pre-arranged signal which consisted of the words “Go...Go...Go...!” Upon hearing this, Volunteers McWilliams and Kennaway immediately moved at speed through the turnstile on A Wing followed, quickly by Volunteer Glennon.

Volunteer Kennaway proceeded to kick clear the pre-cut section of the A Wing fence opening the hole. Volunteer McWilliams then ran through the hole closely followed by Volunteers Kennaway and Glennon.


Once clear of the hole in the fence Volunteer Kennaway stood against the wall outside cell 26 for the purpose of hoisting Volunteers McWilliams and Glennon on to the roof of H Block 6. Having completed the assistance successfully, Volunteer Kennaway proceeded to haul himself on to the roof as well. As he was doing so, Volunteers McWilliams and Glennon proceeded to jump off the roof of the block into the forecourt.

The Prison van containing Billy Wright was by this stage edging its way forward toward the exit gates of the forecourt which had already been opened by a number of prison officers. Volunteer McWilliams, armed with the concealed semi-automatic pistol, produced the weapon on entering the area. He proceeded with speed to run in front of the prison van containing Wright bring the van to an abrupt halt. At this stage it appeared that prison officers, on spotting Volunteer McWilliams was armed, attempted to close the forecourt gates.

Within seconds, Volunteer Glennon, armed with the Derringer pistol, had joined the two other volunteers.

Volunteers McWilliams and Glennon made their way to the sliding door of the prison van, the sliding door was the means in which the prisoners gained access, and this door could only be opened from the outside. As this move was taking place, Volunteer Kennaway remained with the driver of the van to prevent him from driving off.


The sliding side door was pulled open by Volunteers Glennon and McWilliams. Volunteer McWilliams then shouted in the rear of the van: “Armed INLA Volunteers”.

He moved quickly to subdue the prison officer sitting adjacent the sliding door shouting at him to “Get Down.” The prison officer reacted by dashing into the corner of the van in a state of shock. The two LVF prisoners meanwhile made a feeble attempt to scramble from the van via the open door. This attempt was quickly thwarted.

Volunteer McWilliams then fired a single shot from the PA63 semi-automatic in the direction of Billy Wright. The effect of this shot was that the second LVF prisoner ran to the back of the van cowering in the corner, holding both arms above his head in order to protect himself.

Wright meanwhile made another feeble attempt to escape the van via the side door. The attempt took the form of him kicking out at Volunteer McWilliams, who immediately stepped back firing three aimed shots into the target. Wright then staggered to the back of the van. He once more made a disoriented move in the direction of the side door. Volunteer McWilliams had by then hopped into the van, stepping aside while Volunteer Glennon provided covering fire using the .22 Derringer pistol.

After firing at Wright, Volunteer Glennon moved back to the door of the van holding the Prison officer and the other LVF prisoner at bay.

Volunteer Kennaway was by this stage continuing to subdue the van driver.

Volunteer McWilliams proceeded then to fire off the remaining three rounds into Billy Wright, killing him instantly. It is important to stress that the INLA active service unit were working under specific instructions issued to them by the Irish National Liberation Army leadership, clear instructions which tasked the ASU with the sole purpose of eliminating the LVF leader and not any other prisoner or prison officer, unless the actions of the latter two served to endanger the lives of the ASU Volunteers.

Having eliminated Wright, the entire ASU withdrew from the vicinity of the van, returning to A Wing via the same route used to access the forecourt.

The entire operation from start to finish lasted no more than one and a half minutes.


On arrival in A Wing, negotiations ensued between the ASU volunteers and prison staff, assisted by the prison chaplain. The ASU proceeded to hand over all equipment and materials used in the operation. The three volunteers were then arrested at the prison reception.

Upon being charged, Volunteer McWilliams issued a short statement which had been agreed beforehand with the leadership of the INLA if and when the operation against Wright proved successful. This brief statement read:

“Billy Wright was executed for one reason and on reason only, and that was for directing and waging his campaign of terror against the nationalist people from his prison cell in Long Kesh”


This statement in its entirety details all aspects which arose as a consequence of the British State authorities recognising the existence of the quasi-fundamentalist Loyalist Volunteer Force as a separate entity from the mainstream Loyalist paramilitaries.

The truth of the existence of the LVF as an individual organisation without direction from either British intelligence or mainstream loyalism has yet to be established - only history will show the truth of this assertion.

The arrival of LVF prisoners into H Block 6 after they had been forced off the mainstream loyalist blocks impacted on several matters which were then either subject, or shortly to become the subject of concern to the leadership of the Irish National Liberation Army and the INLA camp staff within Long Kesh itself.

1. Immediately prior to the arrival of LVF prisoners into H block 6 during April 1997, INLA volunteers housed on C and D wings of this block were close to finalising plans to effect the escape from Long Kesh of selected INLA personnel.

Advanced plans in this regard had to be aborted as a direct consequence of the LVF arriving onto the Block. However although plans were aborted, a decision was taken by Long Kesh INLA internal security to restage the escape attempt at the earliest convenient opportunity, escapes from British prisons being in accordance with the duty of all republican POW’s.

2. The formation of the Loyalist Volunteer Force as ostensibly a splinter from the Ulster Volunteer Force during the Drumcree crisis of 1996 served to add a more extreme fundamentalist sectarian dimension to the activities of the loyalist death squads. The LVF first came to public attention with the murder of MichaeI McGoldrick, a Catholic taxi driver outside Lurgan on the 8th of July 1996. This killing was quickly followed by the brutal slaughter of Catholic youth James Morgan from outside Castlewellan and the dumping of his remains in a pit full of decomposing animal carcasses in Clough.

There followed a series of internal squabbles between the LVF, UFF and UVF. This series of squabbles served to disrupt the workings of the LVF for the remainder of 1996, although loyalist murders of innocent Catholics were to continue on a ‘No Claim, No Blame’ basis.

During this campaign the parties involved in the Stormont talks ignored the loyalist campaign insisting that peace existed.

It did exist, for some, but not for the nationalist working class communities of the six-counties.

In May 1997 the LVF had re-emerged, claiming responsibility for the murder of 52-year-old GAA official Sean Browne in Randalstown, County Antrim.

Within a matter of weeks, on the 15th of July, the LVF had struck again, brutally murdering 18-year-old Catholic girl Bernadette Martin as she lay sleeping in her boyfriend’s home in Aghalee, County Antrim.

What followed was a series of sectarian murders of Catholics on the “No Claim, No Blame” basis, culminating with the murder of 35-year-old GAA official Gerry Devlin in the grounds of St. Enda’s GAA club in Glengormely.

The net effect of this sectarian campaign with a steady stream of prominent loyalists from the UVF and UFF “defecting” to the LVF with a view to forming an alliance that would continue to target the nationalist working class. This alliance finally forced the INLA to break its defence and retaliation mode that it had been observing since March 1996.

It was the view of the INLA that the LVF grouping was posing a serious threat to the nationalist community.

This statement, which has been released by the leadership of the Irish National Liberation Army, inclusive of accounts of the debriefings of the INLA active service unit involved in the operation to eliminate the LVF leader, amounts to all that has to be said as far as we are concerned on this matter.

Should the demise of Billy Wright in any way have served to help other groups and/or state authorities, this we regard as merely coincidental and not a matter for our concern.

Those who have alleged some form of collusion do so to forward their own narrow political agenda and ignore the facts and the reality for the nationalist working class community.

Those who allege that it was an attack on the peace process are suffering from the same political tunnel vision that claim that the Stormont talks and the Good Friday Agreement are going to bring peace.

The INLA execution of the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright, a recognised sectarian killer who often worked on the orders of MI5, far from being an attack on the peace process was a positive blow for peace in Ireland.

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2010 Irish Republican News