Belfast Telegraph

Loyalist who cradled murdered Billy Wright in his arms breaks his silence

 

By Ciaran Barnes

THE LOYALIST who cradled a murdered Billy Wright in his arms after giving him the kiss of life, wants to forget about the Maze Prison execution that almost wrecked the peace process.

Norman Green Jnr (46) was sitting beside the ruthless LVF leader when he was shot multiple times by INLA gunman Christopher 'Crip' McWilliams. He desperately tried keep Wright talking as he lay bleeding and then attempted in vain to revive Wright by giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of 37-year-old Wright's killing, a date that is forever burned in the memory of Green Jnr.

"To be honest I just want to forget about it all," the convicted UDA gunman told Sunday Life from the kitchen of his heavily fortified north Belfast home.

Breaking a 20-year silence, he added: "I'm finished with all that (paramilitarism). I've made a new life for myself and I've a new job. I've put all that nonsense behind me and moved on."

Green Jnr, who defected from Johnny Adair's UDA C Company to the LVF while in the Maze, was in the prison van with Wright when it was surrounded by an INLA hit-team on December 27, 1997.

The pair had been on their way to visit family when they were attacked by republicans Crip McWilliams, John 'Sonny' Glennon and John Kennaway.

The INLA men had clambered over a roof and used wire-cutters to get through a fence separating the LVF prisoners from themselves.

Amazingly, Green Jnr escaped injury and scrambled to a corner of the van.

Frozen with fear, he watched as Wright, kicking out desperately in defence, was shot seven times in the upper body, causing him to fall back into the vehicle.

Green Jnr later told an inquiry into the murder that he pleaded with the LVF leader to "get down" and then, realising his friend was dying, shouted out: "They shot Billy."

"The door was slid open from the outside and I saw a man with a handgun ready to fire at Billy," he said.

"I instantly rolled on to the floor, but Billy stood up and started fighting. There were five or six shots and he fell on the ground across my legs.

"It all happened very quickly. I held Billy's head in my arms and tried to keep talking to him. I was left alone with him. I tried to get help, but no one came."

Describing how the INLA gunmen fled in one direction and two prison officers in the other, Green Jnr recalled cradling a dying Wright in his arms and trying to coax him back to life.

"I got back into the van and tried to help Billy. I wiped the blood from his mouth and gave him the kiss of life," he revealed.

"It was no good. Billy gave a long sigh and I knew he was dead. It was at least another 20 minutes before help came."

The jailhouse murder of Wright, who was responsible for dozens of sectarian loyalist killings, plunged the fledgling peace process into crisis.

The LVF and UDA responded to his execution by gunning down seven Catholics over the next six weeks.

The IRA and INLA shot dead two loyalists, Robert Guiney and Bobby Dougan, in retaliation.

Despite the tit-for-tat murder spree, republicans and unionists signed the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, paving the way for the return of a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Despite occurring 20 years ago, the Wright killing, and the dark months that followed, continue to resonate strongly with loyalists who insist the LVF godfather was set up.

A government inquiry into the execution which concluded in 2010 found it was caused by prison negligence and not collusion.

It blamed a decision to house LVF prisoners next to INLA inmates on the same block at the Maze as "directly facilitating" the 1997 murder.

However, friends of Wright remain convinced his death warrant was signed two years earlier when a PUP member produced a list of "problem loyalists" who did not support peace talks.

According to senior sources, the names on the document included:

  •  LVF leader
  •  
  • Wright, who was murdered by the INLA;
  •  
  • Red Hand Commando assassin Frankie Curry, who was gunned down by the UVF in 1999;
  •  
  • LVF boss Mark 'Swinger' Fulton, who was found dead in Maghaberry Prison in 2002;
  •  
  • Red Hand Commando bomb-maker Tucker Ewing, who escaped a UVF assassination attempt at his Co Down home in the late 1990s;
  •  
  • Belfast LVF chief Jackie Mahood, who survived being shot in the head by the UVF in November 1997, one month before Billy's Wright murder.

Insiders told Sunday Life that the list of problem loyalists was handed to security officials by a prominent member of the PUP at a meeting in London in the early summer of 1995. A second independent source, who was at the same get-together to discuss the ongoing UDA and UVF ceasefires, confirmed that this took place.

A year later, Wright, who by this stage had formed the LVF, which murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick in 1996, was placed under a UVF death threat.

Our source explained: "The UVF was worried that the hardliners on the list represented a threat to the peace process because they refused to support the Good Friday Agreement talks. Billy Wright was the main concern and, within a year, he had formed the LVF, split from the UVF and taken most of the mid-Ulster brigade with him.

"It suited everyone to have him dead - the UVF, republicans, even the security forces.

"The inquiry into his killing found that there wasn't any collusion, but most loyalists you talk to would reject that.

"The circumstances around Billy's murder stink even to this day."

 

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