The downfall of Mad Dog Adair, part 2

Sunday October 5, 2003
The Observer

Johnny Adair didn't know it at the time, but 25 September 2002 was to be his last day as a member of the UDA. Another emergency brigadiers' meeting was called, but this time Adair and White were not invited. Although still badly wounded, Jim Gray signed himself out of hospital to attend the meeting, at a bar in east Belfast. Jackie McDonald says it was probably the most important, though shortest, inner council meeting in the organisation's history. There was only one item on the agenda: the dismissal of Johnny Adair as brigadier in west Belfast. In two minutes he was found guilty of treason. McDonald recalled, 'There was no other option for us but to dismiss him. He was involved in the attempted murder of two members. The reality is, Johnny Adair dismissed himself from the UDA.' A short time later, the UDA issued a statement to the press. 'As a result of ongoing investigations, the present brigadier in west Belfast is no longer acceptable in our organisation.'

Ripping up the dismissal notice in front of TV cameras, Adair told reporters, 'It's not worth the paper it's written on, but you'd better ask the UDA what it's all about.' Twelve years after he had seized control of C Coy in a coup, everybody but Adair could see that the game was up. 'It didn't seem to sink in,' said Sham Millar. 'Johnny didn't seem to know the importance of what was happening. He was out, but he didn't accept it. He just sort of went, "Fuck them 'uns."' Adair's only hope was that A and B companies would stick with him and that the UDA in west Belfast would remain defiant.

Shortly before midnight on 4 October, Geoffrey 'The Greyhound' Gray, a 41-year-old LVF member, was blasted to death with a shotgun as he made his way home from a local pub. The killing, on Ravenhill Avenue in east Belfast, was the UFF's retaliation for the shooting of Jim Gray. Three days later, the LVF shot 22-year-old Alex McKinley, a Protestant with links to the UDA in east Belfast. He died of his wounds on 13 October. The following day the LVF held out the white flag, saying that it wanted to 'mediate a settlement' and 'get the UDA leadership to the table to talk'.

Following intervention by Protestant clergymen, senior members of the LVF and UDA met on 18 October in a bid to reconcile their differences. After a flurry of meetings in early November, both sides agreed a truce. In a thinly veiled swipe at Adair, the LVF issued a statement admitting it had been wrong to blame Jim Gray for the murder of Stephen Warnock.

'It has now become obvious that erroneous/false information was furnished to both organisations, which resulted in this unfortunate conflict,' it said. It had cost three murders and seven attempted murders, but the feud with the LVF was over.

The stage was now set for the final confrontation, an all-out war between Adair and his old colleagues. On 1 November, in the first sign of the coming storm, Davy Mahood, one of Adair's political advisers, who had tried to keep himself right with both camps, was shot in the legs behind a community centre in Ballysillan. In a statement read by Sammy Duddy, who replaced Mahood as the group's spokesman in north Belfast, the UDA said the attack followed a four-month investigation into Mahood's activities. It blamed him for staging an attempt on his own life, which Mahood had claimed was carried out by republicans. Duddy, a former drag queen once known as 'Samantha', said, 'Mahood's life was spared, largely because of the intervention of the new regime.'

On 8 November, the UDA said eight families had been attacked over the past two weeks and blamed Adair for the incidents. Calling on rank-and-file members in west Belfast to walk away from their leader, it said: 'The loyalist people of west Belfast do not want this. The west Belfast UDA must take action to distance themselves from these individuals. They have caused enough suffering.' Not to be cowed into submission, Adair and White insisted that their support was as strong as ever and claimed 2,000 west Belfast UDA men had turned out for the 2nd Battalion's Remembrance Sunday parade. They even claimed that they had formed three new units - one in north County Down, one in mid-Ulster and another in Scotland.

The build-up to a new feud began steadily over the next few weeks with a series of threats and attacks, including the shooting of Sammy Duddy's pet chihuahua, Bambi. On the lower Shankill, Adair started to scent treachery everywhere. He turned on some of his oldest friends, including Alan McClean, his welfare officer and head of C9, who was driven off the Shankill. But the clearest sign that Adair was losing the plot came when he fell out with his old friend and ally, Winkie Dodds.

After learning that one of the Dodds family was still dealing drugs with the Shoukris, Adair ordered him to pay a fine of £10,000 or leave Northern Ireland. The family scraped together £7,000 and offered the payment to Adair, but he refused to accept and the relative fled the country. After the parade on Remembrance Sunday, Winkie's brother, Milton 'Doddsy' Dodds, was standing next to some of Adair's colleagues at the bar when he asked them why they were giving his brother such a hard time. Donald Hodgen responded by hitting him, while later that night Fat Jackie Thompson led a C Coy punishment squad to Milton's house where they broke down the front door and beat him with baseball bats. For Winkie and his wife it was the final straw.

On 21 November, after living on the Shankill all their lives, they moved to the loyalist White City estate on the outskirts of north Belfast, where they were given protection by the UDA's southeast Antrim brigade.

The defection of Winkie Dodds - a living legend in the eyes of many loyalists - should have been a wake-up call for Adair. But it only hardened his belief that he was doing the right thing.

On 6 December, an incendiary device was found outside John White's luxury £300,000 home at Carrickfergus on the outskirts of Belfast. Two days later, a sophisticated booby-trap bomb was discovered under the car of John 'Grug' Gregg, the UDA's southeast Antrim brigadier. It was a revenge attack by C Coy, but with an extra twist: the device was said to have been made by the same LVF bombmaker responsible for the booby trap that killed Catholic solicitor Rosemary Nelson in 1999.

As far as the UDA was concerned, it was a declaration of war. Five nights later, 17 shots were fired at the Ballysillan home of C9's Ian Truesdale and his wife's barber shop on the Crumlin Road was destroyed by arsonists. Truesdale, whose wife had refused to pay £25 per week in protection money to the north Belfast UDA, immediately moved to the lower Shankill, where Adair gave him £4,500 to help decorate his new home.

Just a week before Christmas the stakes rose again. Adair himself was the intended target of two gunmen, who had planned to kill him as he dropped his eight-year-old daughter at school.

By the middle of December, the UDA had launched a concerted propaganda campaign against Adair. It seized on the fact that he had briefly abandoned his beloved C Coy to spend a weekend with his wife, Gina 'Mad Bitch' Adair, in Lapland, a trip that did not go down well with ordinary volunteers in west Belfast. It also encouraged speculation that there was a £10,000 bounty on his head, to be doubled if he was killed by Christmas.

Adair remained defiant. Wearing a black Diesel sweatshirt and surrounded by cheering young men in designer tracksuits, he told The Observer, 'The Adair family will have a normal family Christmas. I'm not going anywhere.' Exaggerating as always about the number of murder attempts he had survived, he went on, 'The IRA and INLA tried to kill me. I survived 15 murder bids and I have bullet fragments in my head and side, so I'm hardly worried about a couple of bully boys who sat on their hands and did nothing when loyalists from the west Belfast brigade were taking the war to the IRA.' In a direct reference to Gregg, he added caustically, 'If I was to wait for these people to do anything, I would die of old age.' It was the clearest indication to date that Adair saw the feud as a personal battle between himself and the 45-year-old southeast Antrim brigadier.

Despite two pipe-bomb attacks on Gregg's house and a gun attack on the home of his friend, the loyalist councillor Tommy Kirkham, Christmas came and went without serious violence. All that changed at 7.30am on 27 December. Jonathan Stewart was standing chatting to a friend at a house party in Manor Street when a hooded gunman strode into the kitchen and shot him several times in the head and body. The 22-year-old was killed for the simple reason that he was a nephew of Alan McClean, who had sided with the mainstream UDA since being thrown off the Shankill. But in a cruel example of how paramilitary feuds could divide families, he was also the boyfriend of Ian Truesdale's 19-year-old daughter, Natalie. Her father almost certainly knew his killers.

It was not long before the UDA retaliated. Three days after Christmas, a decision was taken to execute Roy Green, a drug dealer and the UDA's former military commander in the Donegal Road area of south Belfast. A close friend of Adair, Green believed he was playing a clever game, pretending to set him up while in reality keeping him briefed about the UDA's plans to kill him. He even agreed to lure Adair to the Village district of south Belfast and to murder him personally. He was lying through his teeth.

As the UDA watched his movements, it became apparent that Green was keeping Adair informed of Jackie McDonald's whereabouts. He was also suspected of helping to set up Jonathan Stewart. Shortly before 7pm on 2 January 2003, the 32-year-old was shot dead as he left the Kimberley Bar off the Ormeau Road. In a statement, the UDA apologised to the Green family for the execution, but said that he had been a 'double agent'. Among his 'acts of betrayal', it said that Green had tipped off Adair about an intended attempt on his life. 'Green may as well have pulled the trigger himself,' it concluded.

On the morning of 8 January, a blast bomb exploded in the back yard of Johnny Adair's home, though it was not even loud enough to wake him. Branding his former cohorts 'criminals', Adair said, 'If they have something against me, bring it to me. I'll face them as individuals one on one, these five brigadiers, at a place of their choice. What they are doing is cowardice.'

Two days later, Paul Murphy, the new Northern Ireland Secretary, decided that enough was enough. In a dossier broadly identical to the one presented to Peter Mandelson two-and-a -half years earlier, he was shown police intelligence accusing Adair of continuing to direct acts of terrorism, involvement in drugs and extortion, membership of a banned organisation, and acquiring and distributing weapons. This time it had taken Adair a mere eight months to land himself back behind bars. Shortly after 5pm on 10 January, he was arrested on Murphy's instructions at his home.

With Adair back in jail, the security forces hoped that the worst of the feud was over. They were badly mistaken. At 10.10pm on 1 February, John 'Grug' Gregg was sitting in a red Toyota taxi at traffic lights near Belfast docks after returning from a Rangers match in Glasgow. He was talking to his 18-year-old son, Stuart, who was also in the car, when it was suddenly rammed by another vehicle. The sound of crashing metal and automatic gunfire filled the night air as two gunmen concentrated a stream of bullets on the cab. Gregg died instantly. Killed alongside him was Robert 'Rab' Carson, a 33-year-old UDA colleague. The taxi driver was seriously injured. Gregg's son was unhurt.

By any standards it was a spectacular gangland 'hit', and Adair was delighted. Although the gunmen were two young volunteers in their early twenties, the planning had been done by the old dream team of the early 1990s. It was the work of Fat Jackie Thompson, who had taken over as brigadier, and Sam 'Skelly' McCrory, who had returned from Scotland to visit Adair in jail the previous day.

The plan had been meticulously prepared. C Coy had intended to kill Gregg as he returned from a Rangers-Celtic match a few weeks earlier, but on that occasion he had felt too unsafe to go. This time, however, he had been confident about his safety. On the same day that Skelly was visiting Adair inside Maghaberry, Gregg discussed a non-aggression pact with Mervyn Gibson, the Presbyterian minister who chaired the Loyalist Commission. The clergyman was hopeful that both sides were moving towards a truce. It was only when Gregg was in Scotland that C Coy withdrew its support for a deal. While the UDA warned the feud was about to 'go nuclear', it also started to receive signals that several leading UDA figures in west Belfast were unhappy.

Although they had been reluctant to put their heads above the parapet, the murder of a brigadier put this in an entirely different perspective. Gregg was the most senior UDA figure to be murdered since John McMichael in 1987, but this time the killers were not republicans but loyalists from his own organisation. The cracks were starting to appear. Adair had believed his power base to be indestructible, but this time he had gone too far. By Tuesday, A and B companies, who had never supported him in the feud with the UVF, had defected. The UDA warned C Coy members that they had just 48 hours to follow suit. Setting a time limit of midnight on the day of Gregg's funeral, it warned: 'After this deadline, if they have not decided to move to A or B company, they will be identified as Red Hand Defenders and treated the same as the enemies of Ulster.' The same day the UDA stepped up the pressure by briefing reporters that it planned to mobilise up to 15,000 men for a march on the Shankill at the weekend.

By the evening of 5 February, Adair's empire was starting to fall apart. An eerie atmosphere settled over the Shankill as commanders from A and B companies met at the UDA's club in Heather Street to consider their position. They were joined by members of D Coy, former Shankill men who had moved to north Down but remained in close contact with Adair. As they were debating what to do, a steady trickle of volunteers from C Coy arrived at the club to turn themselves over.

As the evening progressed, the trickle turned into a deluge. Although they had initially gathered to discuss whether people wanted to move from the Shankill, the atmosphere suddenly changed. A television appearance by John White, in which he said he was 'indifferent' to Gregg's murder, tipped them over the edge. 'The plan was originally for up to 1,000 men to come into Johnny's area after Gregg's funeral, but what with the adrenaline and the drama, the defectors took it into their own hands,' said one UDA veteran.

Sensing that something was afoot, Fat Jackie Thompson and Sham Millar slipped out of the lower Shankill estate and called to see William 'Woodsie' Woods, who lived in nearby Manor Street. His wife explained he had already cut his losses and left. They then contacted Ian Truesdale and John White, only to discover that they too had bolted. In an instant, Thompson and Millar realised it was time to run. They telephoned home to say they were going to Scotland. Thompson told his wife to book furniture removal vans for the following day and said he'd meet her coming off the boat. In a series of phone calls, they arranged to meet some of their colleagues on the road to Larne, where they would catch a ferry to the mainland.

In the end, Adair's fiefdom collapsed with barely a shot fired in defence. Shortly after midnight, more than 100 men piled out of the Heather Street bar and drove straight to Boundary Way, where they started smashing windows and kicking in doors. Although most of his friends had already fled, a young C Coy volunteer involved in Gregg's murder was seized and badly beaten. He was about to be shoved into the boot of a car when a phalanx of police and Army Land Rovers arrived. Within minutes, a convoy of seven cars carrying around 20 people, including Gina Adair and her four children, left the Shankill for the last time.

They fled so quickly that Adair's Alsatians, Rebel and Shane, were abandoned in the street. Under police escort they headed to the ferry terminal at Larne, where they met up with White, Fat Jackie and the others. As around 7,000 UDA supporters descended on the Rathcoole estate for Gregg's funeral the next day, the exiles were adjusting to a harsh new life outside Belfast. After arriving in the port of Cairnryan, Fat Jackie and White were questioned by Special Branch officers. The police had found £69,000 in cash in one of the cars, but although it belonged to Gina Adair, White claimed it. The money, in separate envelopes containing £1,000 each, had been stuffed into a shoebox. Police also discovered that Fat Jackie was carrying £7,000 in cash, the takings of a sandwich shop he and Sham Millar had opened. While Thompson and White were quizzed, the others set off up the coast towards Ayr.

Following their release later that afternoon, White and Thompson joined their colleagues and the group reviewed its position. But without maps and with little money, Scotland was a confusing place. Said Millar: 'We were talking about going to Newcastle. Truesdale was leading the attack, but he got us lost. Everybody was just a bit pissed off, and we said, "Fuck it." The nearest place to where we were was Carlisle, so we went to Carlisle for a couple of nights, because we had more families from Belfast wanting to come over and join us.'

While Adair contemplated the ruins of his empire from his cell, his old comrades faced the reality of life on the road. After spending a few days in Carlisle, a collective decision was taken to head further south, this time to the more densely populated town of Bolton. The 120-mile journey down the M6 would take them a few hours at most, but the exiles again found themselves heading in the wrong direction. In a foreign country, the remnants of Johnny Adair's elite C Coy were truly lost.

Adair's old cohorts in England - the 'Bolton Wanderers' as they have been dubbed - appear resigned to the fact that they are not coming home. For Gina in particular, who is used to living in style and making others pay, it has been a humiliating comedown. She has even had to go to court to beg for a council house. Up to 50 former members of C Coy and their families are now living in the Bolton area, while several others are in Manchester. Like Gina, they are all pleading poverty, claiming to have sold their cars and pawned their jewellery in an attempt to survive. A handful of them are genuinely broke, but for Gina, Fat Jackie and Sham Millar (who are brothers-in-law), the claim is a little far-fetched. They are probably not as wealthy as newspapers in Belfast have speculated, but the cash is almost certainly there, stashed away and waiting for them to lay their hands on it. The police are convinced Adair still has money.

The real reason Gina and her fellow exiles have yet to access it is because they know they are being monitored by a new government agency with the power to confiscate the illegal assets of Northern Ireland's paramilitaries. John White, who has severed his links with Adair and become a born-again Christian in the north of England, is also being watched.

If or when the exiles try to return to Belfast, there will be more blood spilt. The only cause for hope is that none of Adair's old friends has the energy to carry out further acts of violence for a man who is already busy betraying them. Adair's most prolific hitman, Stevie 'Top Gun' McKeag, is in the grave. The rest are getting old. Fat Jackie Thompson will be 40 in November, Sham Millar is 37 and his brother Herbie 38. Ian Truesdale is 42.

Donald Hodgen, who turned 40 in May, has had virtually no contact with Adair since his old friend returned to prison. All he wants is to stay out of the way. Even Sam 'Skelly' McCrory, Adair's closest friend, appears to have gone to ground. Nobody knows where he is. Since the early 1990s he has been flitting between the west coast of Scotland and Northern Ireland. He was 38 in March.

As for Adair himself, he has experienced bouts of depression since returning to jail. He will be 40 in October. As he approaches middle age he cannot comprehend how his reputation and empire have fallen apart. Even C Coy itself, for so long synonymous with Adair, has been disbanded as a UDA unit. 'See, republicans have their heroes and they stay heroes, but loyalists build you up and then they knock you down,' he said in a telephone conversation from jail.

Enough violence has already emanated from the small maze of streets at the bottom of the Shankill Road. As a director of terrorism, Johnny Adair controlled a dangerous clique and ordered around 40 murders by C Coy and the west Belfast UFF. He was the UFF's most influential figure throughout the early 90s, when it claimed the lives of nearly 90 people.

When he is finally released from jail, probably in January 2005, Adair will face a stark choice. Does he go back to the Shankill and try one last throw of the dice? Or does he settle quietly away from Belfast, hoping he can avoid assassination and live in peace with his family? OM

Mad dog: who's who

Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair
Also known as 'Pitbull', 'the Wee Man' and 'Red Adair'

Gina 'Mad Bitch' Adair
Also known as 'Orange Bitch'. Maiden name Crossan

Sam 'Skelly' McCrory
Adair's close friend and a C Coy gunman. Skelly is gay, which has led to speculation about Adair's sexuality

Donald 'Big Donald' Hodgen
One of Adair's oldest friends and a senior C Coy figure

Jackie 'Fat Jackie' Thompson
A C Coy gunman in the early 1990s and, like Hodgen, formerly one of Adair's closest associates

James 'Sham' Millar
Also known as 'Boss Hogg' after the money-grabbing villain in The Dukes of Hazzard. A former C Coy driver and gunman and a major drug dealer

William 'Winkie' Dodds
A veteran C Company gunman and for years one of Adair's closest allies

Gary 'Smickers' Smith
Also known as 'Chiefo'. After 1993, Smith became C Coy's leading gunman. Known for his loyalty to Adair

Billy 'King Rat' Wright
The founder of the LVF. Shot dead inside the Maze Prison in December 1997. Loathed Adair with a passion

Mark 'Swinger' Fulton
Wright's successor as head of the LVF and a friend of Adair. Found dead in his cell in Maghaberry Prison in June 2002

Billy 'The Mexican' McFarland
The UDA's brigadier for County Derry and north Antrim

Jim 'Doris Day' Gray
The UDA's brigadier in east Belfast. The derogatory nickname comes from his bleach-blond hair. His men, recognised by their chunky gold jewellery and extravagant lifestyles, are known as 'the Spice Boys'

John 'Grug' Gregg
The UDA's former brigadier in southeast Antrim. Shot dead in February

Andre Shoukri
Son of Egyptian father and Northern Irish mother, who at 25 became the UDA's youngest brigadier. Became friendly with Adair in jail, dealing drugs on his behalf

John White
Adair's former spokesman

Jackie McDonald
Currently, he is the most powerful figure on the UDA's ruling inner council

The lexicon of loyalism

A Company, or A Coy
The upper Shankill 'company' of the west Belfast UDA

B Company, or B Coy
The mid-Shankill 'company' of the west Belfast UDA

The title given to the head of each of the UDA's six 'brigade' areas

C Company, or C Coy
One of three 'companies' in the west Belfast UDA. At the peak of its violent campaign under Johnny Adair, C Coy stretched from the bottom of the Shankill Road to Tennent Street, half a mile up the road

Johnny Adair's old C Coy 'team'. One of around 18 teams of up to 60 men, which together made up C Coy

Loyalist Volunteer Force. Volatile loyalist terrorist group founded by the loyalist icon Billy Wright in 1996, after he was forced out of the UVF

Quis Separabit
The UDA's Latin motto, meaning 'Who will come between us?'

Red Hand Commando. A small loyalist terrorist group closely linked to the LVF

Red Hand Defenders. A flag of convenience used by both the UDA and LVF

Second Battalion
The west Belfast UDA

Ulster Defence Association. The largest loyalist paramilitary group. Formed in 1971 as an umbrella group to replace vigilante organisations which sprang up in Protestant areas in reaction to IRA violence. At its peak it claimed to have a membership of over 40,000. Its small but ruthless military wing is known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters, and has been responsible for some of the most despicable murders of the Troubles. Only a small minority of UDA members are active in the UFF

Ulster Volunteer Force. The oldest loyalist terrorist group. Took its name from the organisation that was set up to oppose home rule in 1912. It was reformed in 1966 under Augustus 'Gusty' Spence

Woodvale Defence Association, also known as B Company

· Extracted from Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and 'C' Company by David Lister and Hugh Jordan. Readers can order Mad Dog for £12.99 plus p&p (rrp £14.99) by calling the Observer Book Service on 0870 066 7989. Published by Mainstream on 3 November

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