Top 10 Infamous Prisoners Held In The Maze Prison

Considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, HM Prison Maze once held prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles of the late 20th Century, today we look at ten of the most infamous prisoners to spend time inside Northern Ireland’s most infamous prison.

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10 – Gerry Kelly

During the Troubles, Gerry Kelly was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary organization that sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland and establish a united Ireland.

In 1973, he was involved in a bombing operation that targeted the Old Bailey courthouse in London and was arrested and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was part of the 1983 Maze Prison escape, during which 38 IRA prisoners, including Kelly, managed to break out of the high-security prison.

After his release from prison in 1989 as part of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, Gerry Kelly transitioned to mainstream politics.

He became a prominent member of Sinn Féin and has been elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Over the years, he has been involved in various political and peace-building initiatives in Northern Ireland.

9 – Bobby Sands

Best known for his role as a hunger striker and his death in prison, which had significant political and social implications during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Sands grew up in a nationalist and Catholic community.

He became involved in the republican movement and joined the IRA in the early 1970s.

Sands was arrested in 1976 and later convicted for possession of firearms.

While in prison, he and other republican prisoners engaged in protests against the British government’s policy of treating them as criminals rather than political prisoners.

In 1981, Sands initiated a hunger strike in Maze Prison to protest the removal of special category status for political prisoners.

The hunger strike was a form of protest where prisoners refused to eat until their demands were met and, Sands, as the first participant, began his hunger strike on March 1, 1981.

Despite international appeals for intervention and attempts to find a resolution, the British government, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, refused to concede to the prisoners’ demands.

Sands’ health deteriorated rapidly, and he died on May 5, 1981, after 66 days on hunger strike with his death having a profound impact, both locally and internationally.

The hunger strikes continued after Sands’ death and eventually, a resolution was reached.

8 – Liam Averill

Another prisoner who was implicated in the Maze Prison Escape of 1983, republican double killer Averill escaped the Maze prison dressed as a woman.

Serving life sentences for two murders committed in 1994, he benefited from a secret amnesty given to 18 ‘on the run’ IRA prisoners to cement the peace process.

Averill fled the prison during a Christmas party for republicans, their wives and families.

He was convicted of shooting dead 40-year-old Alan Smyth, a former UDR soldier, and another Protestant John McCloy in the village of Garvagh in April 1994.

He famously walked, in disguise through the maze prison gates, without being checked and was last seen disappearing into the night through the visitor’s car park.

The escape, which was caught on video, became one of the most daring in the prisons history and Averill later re-appeared in 2014 for a court appearance and drink-drive fine.

He was disqualified from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay £30 costs.

7 – Billy Wright

Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary and the leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, Wright formed the LVF in 1996 after a split within the UVF.

Wright was known for his extreme views and was involved in numerous sectarian attacks against the Catholic nationalist community.

The LVF, under his leadership, was responsible for several acts of violence, including shootings and bombings with Wright and his paramilitary group being implicated in numerous sectarian murders.

On December 27, 1997, Billy Wright was assassinated inside the Maze Prison by members of the Irish National Liberation Army.

His killing was part of the ongoing violence between loyalist and republican factions within the prison and Wright’s death intensified tensions within the loyalist community, leading to further violence and reprisal attacks.

His legacy remains controversial, with some viewing him as a loyalist figurehead and others condemning his involvement in violence and sectarianism.

6 – Johnny Adair

Adair rose to prominence after becoming a prominent figure in the Ulster Defence Association.

Associated with the “C Company” unit of the UDA, based in the Shankill Road area of West Belfast. Adair and his associates were involved in various acts of violence and sectarian attacks.

In 2002, internal tensions within the UDA led to Adair being expelled from the organization with this internal conflict resulted in a violent feud between Adair’s faction and the mainstream UDA.

After many bombings and paramilitary-style shootings within Belfast, Adair was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in the Isle of Man on charges related to directing terrorism.

After serving part of his sentence, he was released in 2005 and relocated to Ayrshire, Scotland, under strict conditions.

5 – Sam “Skelly” McCrory

Another member of the member of the Ulster Defence Association, McCrory formed a racist skinhead gang in his youth.

Francisco Notarantonio became his first victim after being shot dead at his home, an event that was setup by a British Army agent to prevent the murder of Freddie Scappaticci.

His next targets were Provisional Irish Republican Army leaders Brian Gillen and Martin Lynch, however he was ambushed by the British Army on the border between South and West Belfast.

McCrory was arrested and received a considerable prison sentence, eventually becoming the UDA officer in command at the prison.

After release, he was accused of involvement in a gun attack on a bar in August 2000 at the start of a loyalist feud.

4 – Michael Stone

One of the more famous inmates held at the maze prison during the troubles, Michael Stone was a member of the Ulster Defence Association or UDA for short.

One of the most infamous incidents involving Michael Stone occurred on March 16, 1988, when he carried out a gun and grenade attack at a funeral in Belfast.

The funeral was for three Provisional Irish Republican Army members who had been killed in Gibraltar.

Stone entered the funeral with the intent of targeting republican mourners, throwing grenades and firing shots, resulting in the deaths of three people and injuring many others.

Following the attack, Stone was apprehended, tried, and convicted for multiple counts of murder and other offenses.

He was sentenced to life in prison, however, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, Stone was released early.

3 – Kieran Nugent

Born in 1958 in Belfast, Nugent became known for his involvement with the Provisional Irish Republican Army before being arrested and sentenced in 1976.

During his time in prison, he and other republican prisoners refused to wear the standard prison uniform as a form of protest against their classification as criminals rather than political prisoners.

The prisoners considered themselves to be engaged in a political struggle, and they demanded recognition as prisoners of war.

Nugent, as a leader of this protest, began wearing only a blanket to highlight his status as a political prisoner and this act marked the beginning of the “blanket protest” in the Maze Prison.

The protest later escalated into the “dirty protest,” during which prisoners refused to wash and smeared their cells with excrement to emphasize their demands.

Kieran Nugent was released from prison in 1986 and remained politically active but moved away from the IRA and became involved in left-wing politics.

2 – Brendan Hughes

Born on February 10, 1948, in Belfast, Hughes became involved in republican activities at a young age and joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s.

Hughes gained notoriety for his involvement in the Maze Prison protests acting as the IRA’s Belfast Brigade Commanding Officer.

He was a close associate of Bobby Sands, the first hunger striker to die during the protest, with himself going on hunger strike and spending 53 days without food before the strike was called off.

After his release from prison in 1986, Brendan Hughes remained active in republican politics.

However, in later years, he became critical of the direction the movement was taking, especially after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Hughes believed that the compromises made in the peace process contradicted the principles of the republican cause.

1 – Larry Marley

Perhaps best known for his involvement in planning the Maze Prison escape in 1983, Marley, in a meticulously orchestrated operation, helped 38 republican prisoners escape from the prison.

Marley played a crucial role in organizing the escape, which involved smuggling in weapons, overpowering prison guards, and using a hijacked food delivery truck to leave the prison.

After the Maze escape, Marley continued his involvement in republican activities, however, his life was cut short on April 3, 1987, when he was assassinated by the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The Maze Prison escape remains one of the most audacious and high-profile events of the conflict, and Larry Marley’s role in planning it is remembered as a significant episode in the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

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