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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 17:47 GMT
What next for Johnny Adair?
Mark Simpson
BBC News Ireland correspondent

Johnny Adair
The 'Mad Dog' has left with his tail between his legs
For once in his life, Johnny Adair has gone quietly.

No bold statements about what he is going to do next, no sinister muscle-flexing for the cameras and no raucous scenes of celebration outside the jail.

Instead, Adair slipped out of Maghaberry prison on Monday morning while no-one was watching.

He was whisked away by the authorities to a military helicopter which took him straight to Manchester, where he travelled on to be with his family in Bolton.

So is this the last we'll hear of Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair?

Those who know him say Adair will think carefully before daring to come back to Northern Ireland.

One key loyalist figure in Belfast said: "He still has a lot of sleepers here. These are people who will let him know what the score is, what would happen if he came back.

"He'll stay in Bolton for a while, take soundings, then work out in his own head what he's going to do.

In my opinion, it would be a grave mistake to come back - with the emphasis on grave
Unnamed loyalist commentator

"In my opinion, it would be a grave mistake to come back - with the emphasis on grave.

"But Johnny always likes to do his own thing."

It's clear the authorities would prefer him to stay in England. Hence, the VIP treatment on his release from prison.

The danger is that his release could re-ignite tensions within Northern Ireland's largest loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA.

In theory, the UDA is on ceasefire; in practice, they'd probably jump at the chance to kill Johnny Adair.

He was once a self-styled hero within the UDA, infamous for his brutality and hatred of Catholics.

Loyalist terror groups are notorious for many things - especially feuds - and the combination of Adair's huge ego and a UDA power-struggle was always going to be a lethal cocktail.

It's better to judge him by his actions rather than his words
Mark Simpson

So it proved in early 2003 when internal relations exploded and a bloody feud broke out.

Adair had been released from a second spell in prison the previous year and had vowed to tread the path of peace. In the end, he went in the other direction, the direction he knows best.

The Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy received a security briefing that he was involved in directing terrorism, drugs, extortion and distributing weapons. Adair was put back behind bars in January 2003.

The next month, just when many people thought the UDA feud might be drawing to a close, two more men were murdered - one of them a high-ranking member of the UDA, John Gregg.

Adair's supporters were blamed.

On the day of Gregg's funeral, around 20 of Adair's closest followers - including his wife Gina and their four children - fled their homes and boarded a boat for Scotland.

Many of them later settled in Greater Manchester and came to be nicknamed the Bolton wanderers.

Any threat they make against me, I just take with a pinch of salt
Johnny Adair
As for Adair, his Shankill Road power base crumbled overnight. His paramilitary wall murals were daubed with paint and Mad Dog was re-written as Sad Dog.

From that day on, it was always likely that Adair would go to England rather than risk returning to the Shankill.

He is still talking tough. He told Belfast's Sunday Life newspaper he was not worried about the possibility of UDA attacks.

He said: "The UDA sent out wee lads to kill me in the past.

"Any threat they make against me, I just take with a pinch of salt."

The bottom line, however, is that he is now in Bolton rather than Belfast.

As ever with Adair, it is better to judge him by his actions rather than his words.

Loyalist leader freed from prison
10 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Police warn Adair over move
06 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Adair's son sentence reduced
01 Oct 04 |  Northern Ireland
Adair nephew 'target' of attack
11 Mar 04 |  Northern Ireland
Bomb targeted terror associate
17 Dec 03 |  Manchester



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