WITH A fresh inquiry under way into the murder of loyalist paramilitary leader Billy Wright in the Maze prison in 1997, a book by William McKee sheds some light on the murder from the inside of the prison, as well as life in the infamous Maze throughout the Troubles.
William McKee was the prison governor in charge of the Maze on the day Wright was shot dead by INLA members, and much of his book, Governor — Inside the Maze, seeks to clarify his role on the day. McKee found himself living behind bullet proof glass and constantly on the run from a vengeful LVF following claims he had order that a key observational tower be stood down on the day of the murder, a claim he staunchly denies.
Few are unaware of the operation of the Maze during the Troubles, a place run more as a prisoner of war camp than a conventional jail, where inmates were segregated according to paramilitary loyalty and prison staff negotiated with prisoners through commanding officers and committees. McKee, who worked for many years to negotiate agreements with prisoners regarding issues as diverse as catering and visiting arrangements, offers a great deal of insight into the operation of the Maze and a glimpse of how prison staff were affected by the Troubles. McKee suffered greatly due to stress, on more than one occasion he was forced to move home at a moment’s notice due to death threats, and the danger and demands of his job ultimately led to the break-up of his marriage.
However there is one area — arguably the most compelling episode in the history of the Maze — to which McKee cannot offer any insight. He was stationed at another prison during the protests and hunger strikes of the 1980s, and only refers to these events to state that he was not in the Maze at the time.
What McKee does offer is a view of the dangers of working in the Northern Ireland prison system, and the bureaucracy from both sides faced by anyone attempting to affect change. He himself faced death threats from both sides of the paramilitary divide, not least because he was implicated in claims of collusion in the wake of Wright’s murder. While vehemently protesting his innocence McKee also lays bare his own suspicions of collusion by security forces in Wright’s killing, and claims he was scapegoated in subsequent inquiries which saw his testimony contradicted by other prison officers. Hopefully the latest inquiry will settle the matter once and for all.