Northern Ireland news

Band hall murder of Margaret Wright 25 years ago sparked revulsion and bloody retribution

Margaret Wright (31), who was brutally murdered in a loyalist band hall 25 years ago

IN 1994 the IRA would call their first ceasefire and six weeks later the Combined Loyalist Military Command also announced a cessation of violence.

Despite this 69 people lost their lives during that year, including Margaret Wright, savagely beaten and shot four times in the head in a Belfast band hall after being mistaken for a Catholic.

The vulnerable 31-year-old was attacked by loyalists in the Meridi Street hall in the Donegall Road area of the city 25 years ago this week.

In the early hours of April 6, Evelyn Wright received a call from a man who claimed he had her daughter in a taxi and was dropping her home and wanted to verify the address.

Police believe this was a belated attempt to verify her identity.

After receiving a tip-off officers raided the dingy band hall at around 7am.

The handful of loyalists still inside refused to open the door and police were forced to sledgehammer their way in.

Blood was discovered in the store room and a murder investigation was launched.

Miss Wright's body was discovered by police in a wheelie bin the following day.

Such was the revulsion at the circumstances of the murder of Miss Wright, who was suffered from epilepsy, that loyalist paramilitaries took action against her killers.

While five people were convicted in connection with her horrific death, two men were shot dead.

Ian Hamilton was killed by the UVF less than a week later. From Enfield Parade in the Woodvale area, he was found dead at a sports pitch in the Shankill area of Belfast.

He is believed to have shot Miss Wright four times in the head.

Billy Elliot, who ran the band hall known as the 'Bad Bet', had ordered the killing, forcing his terrified victim to strip to her pants before she was beaten with pool cues and a brush handle and then shot.

Still breathing, she was bundled into the bin and pushed around half a mile away and left at the rear of a derelict house.

Elliott was shot dead by his own organisation, the Red Hand Commando (RHC), in September 1995. Having fled Northern Ireland to Scotland he returned after the loyalist ceasefire in the mistaken belief that he was no longer under threat.

Loyalist politician Billy Hutchinson said after the killing: "No-one but close relatives will miss Elliott. The fact is, with him gone Northern Ireland's a wee bit safer place for all of us to live."

Two men were jailed for life for Miss Wright's murder. Christopher Sheals was cleared of murder on appeal but his conviction for causing her grievous bodily harm was upheld, with the sentence reduced from 20 years to 15 years.

Stephen Rules, from Donegall Avenue in Belfast, lost his murder appeal and was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison.

Following his release he left Northern Ireland but was reported to have returned a short time later to live in south Belfast under the protection of the UDA.

Elliott's wife Alison also received a three-year suspended sentence for her part in helping the killers by bringing them clean clothes to the band hall.

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", adding that: "The crimes they committed were so disgusting that they make one despair of the society in which they were perpetrated."

Self-confessed Red Hand Commando members David John Jess, of Moyle Walk, and Warren Neil Gibson, of Matilda Gardens, and Stephen John Salters, of Lindsay Street, all in Belfast, were given seven-year jail terms for assisting in the aftermath of the murder.

The band hall where Miss Wright was murdered was later bulldozed at the insistence of the local community.

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