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Lawyers to comb Wright report for security threats

Lawyers acting for the Government are to study a report into the prison death of loyalist Billy Wright.

They are checking that Lord Ranald MacLean's £30 million investigation into alleged security lapses will not put the lives of individuals at risk when it is published within a few months.

Lord MacLean probed the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader's murder by republicans in the high-security Maze prison near Belfast in 1997. Five witnesses at the inquiry won a legal battle for anonymity.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said: “I need to satisfy myself that the publication of the report will not breach Article 2 of the Convention (on Human Rights) by putting the lives or safety of individuals at risk.”

He added: “I also have a duty to satisfy myself that publication will not put national security at risk, for example by disclosing details of sources of confidential information.”

The five witnesses granted anonymity included former police Special Branch officers.

With terms of reference announced in November 2004 the Wright inquiry was one of three established to probe whether security force collusion surrounded controversial deaths. The others included murdered Catholic solicitor Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill, who was kicked to death in Portadown, Co Armagh, while police were nearby.

Last month the Saville Inquiry report was published after the Government considered similar national security implications.

Questions considered by the Wright panel included:

  • The decision to house Wright and other LVF members in the same H Block as the INLA.
  • The security lapses which allowed the INLA to smuggle in two guns.
  • The standing-down of a prison officer from the watchtower overlooking H Block 6 on the morning of the killing.
  • The fact that a vital CCTV camera was not working.
  • The lapses which allowed a wire fence to be cut by INLA men.

Mr Paterson added he had asked a team of officials to begin checking the MacLean report.

“I have established a small team of officials and legal advisers to assist me in carrying out this necessary exercise,” he said.

“The team will be led by the Northern Ireland Office's principal legal adviser but will need to include members drawn from the Ministry of Defence, security service and PSNI.”

Representatives of the families may enjoy advance sight before the report is published to Parliament, Mr Paterson said.

He added he wanted to publish the report in its entirety.

“Should any concerns about the safety of any individual arise my first course of action would be to consider whether these can be addressed through alternative means,” he said.

“In the very unlikely event that any redaction (blacking out) was deemed necessary, my intention would be to make this clear on the face of the report.

“I believe these checks are absolutely necessary in order to meet the legal obligations on me.”

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