`Evil and depraved' men get life for woman's murder in loyalist bandhall

 

TWO of the "evil and depraved men" who helped murder Ms Margaret Wright in a loyalist handball were jailed for life yesterday. Three others who helped dispose offer body in a "subhuman way were each jailed for seven years by Belfast Crown Court.

The five had joked in the dock but ceased as Lord Justice Nicholson castigated them for their parts in the Easter Tuesday killing in 1994. "The crimes they committed were so disgusting that they make one despair of the society in which they were perpetrated," he said.

Ms Wright, he said, was a "lovely looking girl" of 31 when brutally murdered "probably because her killers thought her a Roman Catholic though she was not or, less likely, a police informer though she was not".

Lord Justice Nicholson said her only crime was to ask "innocent" questions. Yet they proved dangerous questions because there were evil and depraved men in that handball."

The man who handed her over to be killed by Red Hand Command leader Billy Elliott and UVF man Ian Hamilton was businessman Christopher John Sheals (30) of Dorchester Crescent, Glengormley, one of those jailed for life.

Both Elliott and Hamilton were later assassinated by their own terror groups because their victim was a Protestant.

If Ms Wright had been a Catholic, said the judge, Elliott would have been a hero [to] the Red Hand Commando" and he and Hamilton might have escaped "if other evil men had not decided to take the law into their own hands".

Ms Wright was bundled into the handball storeroom to be interrogated and shot four limes in the head by Hamilton. Standing guard to prevent witnesses was Stephen Robert Rules (30) from Donegall Avenue Belfast also jailed for life.

While he guarded the hallway leading to the store, Ms Wright was subjected to brutal and degrading treatment, stripped of her clothes apart from her pants, gagged, hooded, her body crushed and finally shot". Then in a final indignity, her near naked body was "disposed of in a subhuman way put into a dustbin, wheeled away and thrown into the rear yard of a disused house".

The trio who carried her body off, including self confessed Red Hand Commando men David John Jess (21) of Moyle Walk, and Warren Neil Gibson (24) of Matilda Gardens, were jailed with Stephen John Salters (24) of Lindsay Street, all Belfast, for seven years.

The last of the accused, the widow of Billy Elliott, Alison Elliott from Rockview Street was freed on a three year suspended jail sentence.

Lord Justice Nicholson said he was being lenient because she was a mother and her husband had been murdered, however "worthless a human being he may have been". Mrs Elliott had pleaded guilty to helping the killers, including her husband, by bringing a change of clothing for him and another to the handball after the murder.

Lord Justice Nicholson praised the man who led the hunt for Ms Wright's killers, Del Supt James Molloy, and the "extraordinary dedication" he and others had shown in bringing the six to justice.

In addition to the life terms given to Sheals, still under threat of death from the Red Hand Commando, and Rules, they each received concurrent terms for the grievous bodily harm caused to Ms Wright and her false imprisonment.

Sheals was given concurrent terms of 20 years and 10 years. Rules got terms of 15 and seven years.