Chairman: Lord MacLean

Report of The Billy Wright Inquiry

Chapter 1

Background to the Inquiry

Meaning of Collusion


As stated above, the definition of collusion by Judge Cory was very wide. He defined collusion at paragraphs 3.182 to 3.189 of his Report as follows:


At the outset it is essential to state the definition of collusion that applies in assessing the actions of state authorities.


The term collusion was defined for the purposes of the Inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. For the purposes of the Hamill case, this definition was modified slightly to meet the unique circumstances of the case.


The definition in this case will be essentially the same. However some slight modification is required in order to apply it to the particular circumstances of this case.


The applicable definition is as follows:

How should collusion be defined? Synonyms that are frequently given for the verb to collude include: to conspire; to connive; to collaborate; to plot; and to scheme;

The verb connive is defined as to deliberately ignore; to overlook, to disregard; to pass over; to take no notice of; to turn a blind eye; to wink; to excuse; to condone; to look the other way; to let something ride; see for example the Oxford Compact Thesaurus Second Edition 2001.

Similarly the Webster dictionary defines the verb collude in this way: to connive with another: conspire, plot.


It defines the verb connive:

1. to pretend ignorance or unawareness of something one ought morally, or officially or legally to oppose;

to fail to take action against a known wrongdoing or misbehaviour – usually used with connive at the violation of a law.

2. (a) to be indulgent, tolerant or secretly in favour or sympathy;

(b) wink at youthful follies;

(c) to cooperate secretly: to have a secret understanding.


In the narrower context how should collusion be defined for the purposes of the Billy Wright case? At the outset it should be recognised that members of the public must have confidence in the actions of Government agencies, including those of the prison services. There cannot be public confidence in a Government agency that is guilty of collusion or connivance in serious crimes. Because of the necessity for public confidence in Government agencies the definition of collusion must be reasonably broad when it is applied to their actions. This is to say that prison services must not act collusively by ignoring or turning a blind eye to the wrongful acts of their officers or of their servants or agents. Nor can the prison services act collusively by supplying information to assist those committing wrongful acts or by encouraging them to commit wrongful acts. Nor can any Governmental agency act collusively by failing to supply to prisons services reasonably reliable information they have received which indicates that a dangerous situation has, or is likely to arise within a prison. Any lesser definition would have the effect of condoning, or even encouraging, state involvement in crimes, thereby shattering all public confidence in important Government agencies.


This case will turn primarily on the response to these questions. First, and most importantly, did the Northern Ireland Prison Service turn a blind eye to the very dangerous situation they knew or ought to have known would arise from billeting the INLA and LVF prisoners in the same H Block in the Maze? Similarly, did another Governmental agency fail to advise or supply to the Prison Service information they had received and considered reasonably reliable which indicated that a dangerous situation had arisen or was arising in the prison?


In determining whether there are indications of state collusion in the murder of Billy Wright, it is important to look at the issue from two perspectives. First, it must be seen whether the documents indicate that the action or inaction of the prison authorities might have directly contributed to the killing of Billy Wright or hindered the investigation of his murder or perverted the course of justice. In addition it is necessary to examine collusive acts which may have indirectly contributed to his killing by INLA prisoners on 27 December 1997 or frustrated the investigation of his death. In this regard it is necessary to examine collusive acts which may have indirectly contributed to the killing by generally facilitating or encouraging or turning a blind eye to the actions or behaviour of the INLA prisoners. That is, the evidence may reveal a pattern of behaviour by a Government agency that comes within the definition of collusion. This evidence may add to and form part of the cumulative effect which emerges from a reading of the documents. Both perspectives will be considered in determining whether the evidence indicates that there have been acts of collusion.’


It may be that the very wide definition of the word collusion that Judge Cory adopted was due to his concentration on one of the synonyms, namely the verb connive. We have been concerned throughout the Inquiry by the width of the meaning applied by Judge Cory, having in mind in particular that the word is not to be found in our Terms of Reference. For our part we consider that the essence of collusion is an agreement or arrangement between individuals or organisations, including government departments, to achieve an unlawful or improper purpose. The purpose may also be fraudulent or underhand. It seems to us that the situations envisaged by Judge Cory in paragraphs 3.187 to 3.189 of his Report, especially those in which he refers to prison services or the NIPS ‘turning a blind eye’, would amply be covered by the Terms of Reference without attempting to analyse them in terms of collusion. We have in mind here ‘wrongful acts or omissions’, including attempts, which ‘facilitated his [Billy Wright’s] death’, whether ‘intentional or negligent’.


We have considered carefully the submissions made with reference to collusion by Counsel for Mr David Wright and the family. They adopt wholesale Judge Cory’s definition of collusion. However, we must have primary regard to our Terms of Reference and, for the reasons expressed in the preceding paragraph, we consider that these Terms would amply cover the kinds of situations referred to in the Wright family’s submissions, without having to resort to the words ‘collusion’ or ‘collusive’.