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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 17:15 GMT
Adair supporters flee homes
Police have cordoned off part of lower Shankill
Police have cordoned off part of lower Shankill
There is tight security in the Shankill area of Belfast after family and associates of jailed loyalist Johnny Adair fled their homes for Scotland.

The sudden departure of about 20 of Adair's closest followers is the latest development in a feud which has split Northern Ireland's largest paramilitary organisation.

The bloody feud within the Ulster Defence Association has been linked to the deaths of four men in the past two months.

On Wednesday, loyalist sources claimed more than 100 members of the UDA's so-called C Company defected to other parts of the organisation, breaking links with Adair.

25 September: Johnny Adair expelled
27 December: Jonathan Stewart murdered
2 January: Roy Green murdered
10 January: Adair returned to prison
1 February: John Gregg and Robert Carson shot dead
5 February: Adair supporters flee homes

Adair and his associate John White were expelled from the UDA leadership last September, causing the split in the organisation.

There were reports that shots were fired after cars arrived at Boundary Way on the Shankill at midnight on Wednesday. The police have since put a security cordon around the area.

Police challenged a gunman and officers fired one shot before he made off. One man was arrested.

Adair's wife, Gina, and John White were among those to have left the Shankill after homes in the area were attacked on Wednesday night.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy condemned the violence in the Shankill and said people there had a choice.

"They can either choose the gangsterism that we have seen over the past number of days, or they can choose political loyalism, the loyalism I have been associated with in terms of meeting with people over the past number of years," he said.

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

"Gangsterism masquerading as loyalism is something we cannot tolerate.

Meanwhile, police in Scotland confirmed a large group of people had arrived at Cairnryan who appeared to be leaving Northern Ireland and had undergone "routine checks".

Six to seven car loads of people, including children, boarded a freight ferry in Larne at about 0415 GMT on Thursday.

The group of about 20, were escorted to Larne by police and were met in Cairnryan by officers of the ports unit following the two-hour crossing.

Four people were held for a time for questioning under terrorism legislation but were later released without charge.

The Conservative MP for the Cairnryan area, Peter Duncan, said he was concerned about paramilitary violence being exported to his constituency.

"If there are paramilitaries engaging in lawless behaviour such as racketeering, I would like to be reassured that there was no prospect of them continuing those activities in such close proximity to Belfast in what is a small rural community," he said.

Earlier this week, UDA members in the greater Shankill area said they no longer recognised the leaders of Adair's faction.

A UDA leadership source described these latest moves as very significant.

A Protestant pastor from the Shankill area said he believed the move against Adair's supporters may have ended the feud.

Jack McKee said: "There may well be certain people who will want to settle some scores but I think as far as what we have witnessed in recent days, that ongoing feud is now finished."

Later on Thursday, the funeral was held of one of the men involved in the decision to expel Adair from the UDA.

John Gregg, the 45-year-old leader of the Ulster Defence Association in south east Antrim, was killed in an attack linked to the feud within the organisation.

Paint was thrown over murals in the area
Paint was thrown over murals in the area

Robert Carson, a 33-year-old member of the UDA, was also killed when the taxi they were travelling in was ambushed near the docks area of Belfast last Saturday.

Gregg, a father-of-four, was buried at Carnmoney Cemetery after a service at his Rathcoole home on the outskirts of Belfast.

Supporters of Johnny Adair were being blamed for the attack.

Adair was returned to prison last month when Secretary of State Paul Murphy revoked his early release licence for his involvement in "a litany of terrorist crimes".

The decision to return him to prison was challenged in the High Court on Thursday.

Judgement was reserved by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Robert Carswell who said he would give his decision as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's chief police officer has likened the actions of the loyalists to a "mafia feud".

On Thursday, Hugh Orde the departure of Adair's supporters had helped calm the situation.

The BBC's Denis Murray reports from Belfast
"The lower Shankill's dread of more bloodshed has eased"
BBC NI's Yvette Shapiro:
"The UDA took brutal and decisive action to rid the lower Shankill of Adair's supporters"
See also:

06 Feb 03 | N Ireland
06 Feb 03 | Scotland
18 Feb 03 | N Ireland
04 Feb 03 | N Ireland
08 Dec 02 | N Ireland
17 Jan 03 | N Ireland
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