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MURDERED Loyalist killer gang boss Billy "King Rat" Wright is being turned into a bizarre folk hero.

Tattoos and souvenirs of Wright, shot dead by Republicans inside the Maze prison last Christmas, have become badges of pride among Loyalists in Northern Ireland and Scotland and with right-wing soccer thugs in England.

In Wright's former home base of Portadown, Co. Armagh, plates, key-rings and pictures of the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader are on sale.

His grave has been turned into a shrine. The headstone is regularly garlanded with Glasgow Rangers scarves and other tokens of respect.

But the most striking demonstration that Wright has become a folk hero are the tattoos.

One prominent Portadown Loyalist has Wright's image all down his thigh and local women have travelled to England where a tattoo artist is specialising in re-creating King Rat on skin.

Young mum Tanya Austin, who lives next door to Wright's former home, said :"It's better than a key ring or a photograph because I can look at it any time I want. And it will always be there for me even when I'm old.

"Every country needs a leader. The Libyans have Gadaffi, the Iranians had the Ayatollah, the Republicans have Gerry Adams and we have Billy Wright."

Wright was leader of the renegade Loyalist Volunteer Force and one of Ulster's most feared terrorists. Security chiefs believe he killed more than 40 Catholics but never managed to convict him of murder.

At the time of his death he was serving an eight-year sentence for perverting the course of justice.

But many Loyalist youngsters are looking up to him as a role model. One teenage girl from North Belfast has erected a chilling shrine to the terror chief in her bedroom. In pride of place is a colour photograph of King Rat lying in state in his coffin.

The girl, a trainee hairdresser said: "I'm not interested in pop stars. Billy was a real Loyalist hero and I like to go to sleep at night looking at him."

Police and politicians are worried about the fast-growing Wright cult, which is at odds with the current mood of reconciliation and the award of Nobel Peace Prizes to David Trimble and John Hume.

Said one RUC officer : "It's dangerous that children are looking up to someone like him at a time when people are talking about peace. It is not a healthy to be revering a dead terrorist at an age when they should be screaming at pop stars."

But the Loyalist who has Wright tattooed on his thigh says many English and Scots right-wingers have joined the cult.

"In fact I first saw a tattoo of Billy on an Englishman and decided to have it done myself," he said. "Groups like Combat 18, the British Movement and Blood and Honour all look up to him.

"These guys came over to help us out at Drumcree over the years and they said that they would carry on in memory of Billy. They have published tributes to him in magazines like Strike Force and look on him in the way they worship one of their dead leaders, Ian Stewart.

"The official line on Stewart's death that he died in a car accident, but we believe ta Government dirty-tricks department was behind it in the same way we believe that they connived in Billy's murder."

The part-time tattooist who specialises in images of Wright (inset) is based in the North of England and is known only as Dave. He is planning a trip to Northern Ireland next month because his services are in so much demand.

He is now so busy with Loyalist tattoos - mainly of Wright - that he is about to go full- time. He said :"I had never heard of Wright until an English skinhead came in early this year with a photo for me to work off. Since then I have done dozens. I don't ask their political persuasion, but it is perfectly obvious."

The English groups who revere Wright are those who have besmirched the name of English football all over the world with their organised thuggery.

The worst night of shame came in February 1995 when their violence stopped the international between England and the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.

That violence was planned long in advance between Ulster Loyalists and the travelling thugs.

The English right-wingers have provided cash and weapons for Loyalist terrorists over the years but the strongest links were formed with Wright and his notorious gang of LVF killers based in mid-Ulster.

That gang - responsible for the murders of more than a dozen innocent Catholics in the area - was expelled from the Ulster Volunteer Force when they refused to accept any talk of a ceasefire.

Wright was the main force behind the first Drumcree stand-offs and was seen on platforms and in negotiations with many mainstream politicians.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Oliver, Ted
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 18, 1998
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