Sunday Life

`Loyalists at war: Squalid death of a 12-times killer

26 September 2004

THE UDA's top assassin was left to die from a huge drugs overdose - an exile from the Shankill Road, after refusing to back Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair in his bid to wipe out the UVF.

As Adair was plotting to suck the UVF into a feud with the UDA in the summer of 2000, Stephen McKeag - nicknamed 'Top Gun' for his murderous exploits - was allowed to return to the lower Shankill, after having earlier been expelled for involvement in a series of fights in loyalist shebeens.

McKeag, whom security sources believe was responsible for at least a dozen murders - his former comrades say it was more - had fallen out with the 'C' company leadership of Adair and Gary 'Smickers' Smith, who were jealous of the macabre celebrity status given to the UDA's 'Top Gun'.

When the blood-letting erupted in August 2000, McKeag infuriated Adair and his cronies by informing them that he would take no part in the internecine fighting, and they beat him up.

Hearing this, the UVF told its units that McKeag was not a target and should be left alone - leaving the UDA's Number One killer of the 1990s an isolated and depressed figure.

McKeag died on the night of Sunday, September 24, at his home off the Crumlin Road, in the most sordid and inglorious of circumstances.

His family found him lying face down on his living room floor; his face heavily bruised from the fall.

Inexplicably, a crossbow bolt was wedged into the wall above his body.

At first, McKeag's family believed their son had been murdered, either by the UVF or, more likely, in some family members' minds at least, by former comrades in 'C' company.

However, the inquest into his death found he had died from a drug overdose, having consumed a lethal cocktail of cocaine and painkillers he had been on since a motorbike smash, two years earlier.

On the lower Shankill estate, there is one mural the UDA has not dared destroy or erase - the painting celebrating the life and squalid death of Stephen McKeag.

Because he had fallen out of favour with Adair - even before the UVF feud, and because of his legendary status as a UDA assassin - the mural remains.

When McKeag died, tributes poured in from all over Northern Ireland.

Two days after he was found, 59 separate death notices appeared in the Belfast Telegraph; the following day a further 120 were printed.

They lavished praise on the UDA's serial killer, and expressed a deep sense of loss.

The short verses and terse expressions of grief illuminate how a fractured, sectarian community copes with the atrocities and pain of its "own" and inflicted on the "other" - sentimentality and denial.

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