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Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 15:50 GMT
Fear of violent reprisals to shooting

He had a big reputation within loyalism but, in the end, he was murdered by his own.

John Gregg was sent to jail in the early 1980s for his part in an attempt to kill the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

He later said his only regret was that he had failed.

But when loyalists start fighting with each other, past reputations count for nothing.

John Gregg
John Gregg was shot dead in an ambush in Belfast

Gregg backed the decision of the UDA leadership - its so-called "Inner Council" - to expel the Shankill loyalists Johnny Adair and John White.

It was a move which opened up another battlefield within loyalism and Gregg, as one of Adair's new enemies, became a frontline target.

Before Saturday night's shooting, there had been several attempts to kill him - the most serious of these the placing of a booby-trap bomb underneath his car in December.

He was a Glasgow Rangers football supporter and a regular visitor to Scotland.

In terms of having a routine, it was here that he was most vulnerable.

His enemies knew his movements, knew when he would come off the boat and knew the route he would have to travel to get back to his Rathcoole home.

'Non-aggression pact'

He was killed in a carefully planned ambush.

Before the Gregg shooting, there was some hope that some progress could be made to bring this latest period of infighting to an end.

There was talk of a "non-aggression pact" and of a meeting between representatives of the UDA on the Shankill and the leaders of the mainstream organisation.

Those plans fell through on Saturday, hours before the ambush in which Gregg and another man were killed.

Senior UDA sources blame Adair for the decision to cancel the meeting.

They claim that in a phone call from his prison cell, he ordered it was not to happen.

Now, there seems little prospect of any mediation and there are very real concerns that this war within the UDA will escalate.

Johnny Adair, Shankill loyalist
The feud erupted when Johnny Adair was expelled from the UDA last year

One senior loyalist described the killing of Gregg as the "biggest disaster" in the UDA since the murder of another of its leaders, John McMichael, back in 1987.

Gregg was considered a hawk and the activities of his so-called "brigade" in south east Antrim had reduced the UDA ceasefire to a sham.

It was his men who murdered Gavin Brett and Danny McColgan and who were behind a spate of pipe bomb attacks on the homes of Catholics living in vulnerable areas.

A senior police source once described the loyalist leader as someone who was driven by "pure and absolute bigotry".

In October 2001, the then British Secretary of State John Reid "specified" the UDA - meaning the government no longer recognised its ceasefire.

The UDA is now in disarray and locked in a battle to determine who is biggest within its ranks.

Gaping wounds

In September, its leader in east Belfast Jim Gray was shot and wounded.

Days later, another of its most senior figures in the north of the city, Andre Shoukri, was arrested and charged with having a gun.

Then came the decision to expel Adair and his close associate John White.

In December, a booby-trap bomb was discovered underneath Gregg's car.

Weeks later, in January, Adair was arrested and returned to jail.

And, now, a double murder in which Gregg was one of the victims.

These are open, gaping wounds within loyalism which won't easily be healed.

A bad situation is becoming progressively worse and no-one seems able or willing to help the UDA out of the mess it now finds itself in.

BBC NI security editor Brian Rowan:
"There had been several attempts to kill Gregg including the placing of a booby trap bomb underneath his car"
See also:

08 Dec 02 | N Ireland
17 Jan 03 | N Ireland
06 Jan 03 | N Ireland
20 Dec 02 | N Ireland
17 Dec 02 | N Ireland
26 Sep 02 | N Ireland
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