Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

'King Rat' Billy Wright's bloody campaign against Catholics

Billy Wright, 37, was one of the most fear-inspiring loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland since the Shankill Butchers in the 1970s.



Nicknamed King Rat he waged a bloody and bigoted war against the Catholic population in the Portadown and Lurgan area between the mid-1980s and his death in 1997.

He was born in 1960 in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. His parents separated when he was a child and he moved to Northern Ireland with his four sisters.

The children were put into care and Wright, separated from his sisters, was brought up in a largely nationalist area of south Armagh.

He socialised with Catholics and played Gaelic football.

But with the conflict at its height several relatives were killed by republicans in the 1970s.

In 1976, not long after ten Protestant workers were murdered by the IRA in the Kingsmill Massacre, Wright joined the youth wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

He was arrested and in 1977 jailed for six years for arms offences. Wright only served just over half his sentence and was released in 1980.

He married Thelma Corrigan, had two daughters and worked as an insurance salesman in Portadown.

He also claimed to have become a born-again Christian and spent time preaching. Despite this he was arrested for UVF involvement several times. He eventually became the UVF's mid-Ulster commander and is thought to have ordered or participated in around 20 killings, most blatantly sectarian.

He also sold drugs for lucrative profit.

He opposed the peace process, the Good Friday Argument and was sceptical of the IRA ceasefire.

He tried to stoke sectarianism around the Orange Order's disputed march through Drumcree in 1996.

On 8 July 1996, with tensions at their height, Wright's men murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan, a killing reportedly carried out as a "birthday present" for their leader.

He was expelled from the UVF but set up his own gang called the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

The LVF was banned by the Government in June 1997 but went on to murder several Catholics with Wright already in jail.

He was arrested in January 1997 and jailed two months later for eight years following an incident in Portadown.

After an altercation between LVF members and the family of Gwen Read, Wright pulled up alongside her and threatened to kill her if she gave evidence against his men.

Wright was initially sent to Maghaberry prison but in April was transferred to the Maze and put on his own wing with a number of other LVF men.

On 27 December 1997 he was led out to a van for a visit with his girlfriend but was shot dead by three Irish National Liberation Army men.

His killing sparked brutal reprisals by the LVF and other loyalists sympathetic to his views.

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