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John Healey accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the service of the year ending with 31st March 2004 and to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the year ending with 31st March 2004; to appropriate the further supply authorised in this Session of Parliament; and to repeal certain Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Acts: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed [Bill 123].
(1) the draft Budget (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 be referred to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee;
(2) the Committee shall meet at Westminster on Thursday 3rd July at half-past Two o'clock; and
(3) at that sitting
(a) the Committee shall take questions under Standing Order No. 110 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (questions for oral answer)), and shall then consider the instrument referred to it under paragraph (1) above; and
(b) at the conclusion of these proceedings, a motion for the adjournment of the Committee may be made by a Minister of the Crown, pursuant to paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 116 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings)).[Gillian Merron.]
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): I have the pleasure of presenting a petition signed by 1,424 residents of Pagham in my constituency against the proposed closure of Pagham post office. The signatures were collected by Pauline and David Bailey, by Jean Morgan and by Mrs. J. Bright in just a few days and represent about one third of Pagham's population.
The petitioners therefore request the House of Commons to urge the Government and Post Office Limited to maintain the post office presence in Pagham either at the existing outlet or within one of the other shops on the Parade at Pagham.
And the petitioners remain, etc.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I beg leave to present a petition on behalf of 1,683 residents of Wimbledon that has been collected by Mr. Paresh Modasia. Signatures were collected at local pharmacies, including the Hilton pharmacy, D.E. Davies pharmacy, Ridgway pharmacy, Mount Elgon pharmacy, Barkers chemists, Seamens chemists, Haydons pharmacy, D. Parry pharmacy and Chemco pharmacy. The petition declares
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to reject proposals that would allow unrestricted opening of pharmacies able to dispense NHS prescriptions.
And the Petitioners remain etc.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to raise the important matter of the need for an investigation into the death of Mr. William Wright. Before paramilitary prisoners were released under the provisions of the Belfast agreement, it was a regular feature in the lives of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament to respond to requests from paramilitary prisoners to visit them in prison. Few months went past without a visit to Crumlin road, Maghaberry, Magilligan or the Maze prisons. Those visits usually resulted in requests to deal with prison conditions or the particulars of a prisoner's sentence or, at times, to help their families.
In March 1997, my office received a request for me to visit Billy Wright in Maghaberry. The visit was arranged for, and took place on, Tuesday 18 March at 2.30 pm. Billy Wright was the leader of the paramilitary group the Loyalist Volunteer Force, and was serving an eight-year sentence for threatening the life of a woman. My intention, however, is to speak not of the life of Billy Wright, but of his death and the circumstances surrounding it. His father and family are entitled to know the truth.
During my visit, Billy Wright informed me of his concern about the arrangements under which he was being held at Maghaberry prison. He said that he was locked in his cell 23 hours a day without the association granted to other prisoners, and that he believed his life to be in considerable danger from republicans in the prison. Indeed, the alleged reason for the 23-hour lock-up was the prison authorities' concern for his safety. He wanted to move to the Maze prison, where he could be placed on a wing with other LVF prisoners. He indicated that if such a move were not granted by 1 May, he would go on hunger strike. The timing would be such that his death would coincide with the Drumcree period. I have abbreviated the details of my visit because of the time constraint, but the message was clear and disquieting.
On the following evening, my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I sought out and met, within the precincts of the House, the then Minister with responsibility for prisons, Sir John Wheeler, and outlined our concerns. We told Sir John, whom I regard as one of the most genuine and sincere Ministers that we have had in Northern Ireland, of the consequences of Billy Wright's being killed or dying in prison, and urged that even to avoid years of 23-hour lock-up, a move would be sensible. To what extent our approach influenced the then Minister's decision I do not know; for I hope that others, particularly the governor of Maghaberry prison, were also conveying the view that a move was wise. However, Billy Wright was later moved from Maghaberry to the Mazebefore 1 Mayand placed in a wing in H-block 6 with other LVF prisoners. Incredibly, however, the LVF wings were in the same block that housed Irish National Liberation Army prisoners. Neither group had declared a ceasefire.
Immediately on Wright's being moved to the Maze, an incident occurred at Maghaberry prison that had a direct link to the death of Billy Wright. Two INLA prisoners, Christopher McWilliams and John Kennaway, took part in a hostage-taking incident in which they used a smuggled weapon. I am now satisfied that McWilliams and Kennaway had intended to murder Wright in Maghaberry prison, but discovered too late that he had been moved to the Maze. Absurdly, the prison authorities decided to punish McWilliams and Kennaway by transferring them to the Mazethe prison to which Wright had been moved.
Some months later, on 27 December 1997, at 10 minutes past 10 in the morning, it was McWilliams, Kennaway and a third man, John Glennon, who murdered Billy Wright by pumping seven shots from a Hungarian PA63 semi-automatic weapon into him as he waited in a prison van in the forecourt of H-block 6 to be taken to the visitor's area for a scheduled visit. The three men who killed Wright made their way to him over the H-block roof and through a hole cut in the security fence. After the killing, the men made no attempt to escape, but simply returned to their wing and, with the intervention of a priest, gave themselves up to officers.
There is therefore no question about who killed Billy Wright. The three Irish National Liberation Army men were convicted of the murder on 20 October 1998 and their organisation claimed full responsibility for it. Yet many matters point to persons in authority in the state having accommodated that murder. The case demands answers.
I am not someone who reacts to each and every incident by calling for a public inquiry. I believe that such an approach devalues the currency of such a call. However, when, as in the case of Billy Wright, a man is shot and murdered in the highest security prison in Europe and today, six years on, so many questions remain unanswered, I believe that only a full public inquiry can settle the matter once and for all.
In August 2001, the Government announced that they would appoint a "judge of international standing" to undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion in several cases, including that of Billy Wright. In May 2002, Judge Peter Cory was appointed and the decision on which cases warrant a public inquiry is awaited. However, the BBC "Spotlight" team investigated the circumstances of Wright's murder and doubted whether the INLA gunmen could have carried out their attack unaided. Very serious questions were posed, but they received no satisfactory answers.
The questions centre on how the INLA gunmen were able to leave their wing and cross the roof of the H-block undetected by prison staff. Why was a security camera covering the murderers' route not working on the day of the murder? Why was a list containing the names of Loyalist Volunteer Force prisoners expecting visits on the day of Wright's murder shown the previous evening to INLA prisoners, thereby alerting them to Wright's movements? How were the two guns used in the killing of Mr. Wright brought into the Maze prison? Why, given the history of McWilliams and Kennaway in smuggling guns into Maghaberry prison, were stricter measures not in place to monitor their activity? Why was a prison officer manning a watchtower twice ordered to leave his postin contravention of prison standing ordersjust before the murder? Why was the advance
Recently, Mr. David Wright sought to have access to the police file on the murder of his son. To advance his goal, he sought a judicial review, which was heard by Mr. Justice Kerr. Although he determined that it was not an automatic requirement of article 2 of the European convention on human rights that Mr. Wright be entitled to the police file at that time, he lucidly articulated another stunning and considered conclusion that he had reached. Having reviewed the police file, he was being asked to make it available to the murdered man's father. Having taken account of other so-called investigations, the judge concluded:
The file shows that in the months leading up to the murder, prison governors were personally, and in correspondence, warned about security at H-block 6. They were warned about the danger of an attack and about how the attack would take place and they were even given the names of the prisoners who would be involved. The file also shows that prisoners, some of whom were subsequently involved in the murder, were reported examining the fence and determining how to get through it. The governors were told of concerns about camera coverage, about the dropping of the guard
The file contains details of statements showing that Ministers had been acquainted with prison officers' concerns about security at the prison. On 21 January 1998, the then Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, responding to remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), stated that since May 1997when the Government came to power
The file details how prison staff watched for days as specified INLA prisoners used the painting of a mural on one of their wings near the circle areathe area that joins the four wings of the H-blockto observe the activity of prisoners in the two LVF wings. The experienced officers were able to identify the intended target and the INLA prisoners involved. They were even able to advise the governor how the attack was to be carried out. No responsible governor would have ignored those warnings. Whom did the governor consult about that information? Given the high political sensitivity of the intended attack, did he contact the Northern Ireland Office? Did officials there inform the Minister? We do not know, becausebizarre though it seemsaccording to the file, those matters were not investigated.
This is a case in which a murder took place that the INLA prisoners had been openly threatening, and was therefore predictable. But more than that, we now know that it was predicted in precise detail, and in good time for action to be taken. It could therefore clearly have been prevented. It must be established why it was not. Who took the decision to do nothing? Who took the decision to allow Billy Wright to be murdered?
It has to be said that, even at that stage, the cover-up had begun. Narey was unable to interview 26 prison officers, all of whom were conveniently absent from work through illness and therefore could not be interviewed. The police file includes a memo from a detective chief inspector stating:
The level of negligence in the prison leading up to the murder of Billy Wright can be explained only by way of deliberate intention. Why was no action taken when clear warnings were given? Why has there been a complete failure adequately to explain or justify those failures to act? The conviction of Billy Wright's murderers should have marked not the end of the investigation but merely the beginning of the next phase. In his evidence to the judicial review hearing, the Chief Constable submitted that the investigation of the death of Mr. Wright was treated as closed on the conviction of those responsible for his murder.
The failure to provide answers to these critical questions, in addition to the numerous questions that have been raised over the past number of years, makes a full public inquiry vital to ensure public confidence. I believe that the police file's contents raise very serious questions about how the matter has been dealt with, and require that a full public inquiry be held.
We do not need to wait for the outcome of Judge Cory's investigation. The Government themselves should fulfil their ECHR responsibility, as instructed by the court. Avoiding a full inquiry is not an option; delay suggests that the Government have something to hide. Evidence that suggests that officers of the state either turned a blind eye to the murder of Billy Wright, orworsewere actively involved in facilitating it, cannot be ignored. There are many questions that demand answers. Only a fully independent inquiry can provide them.