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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

Mowlam wavered over terrorist leader release

Johnny Adair (centre) leaves the Maze Prison

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam had admitted she had reservations about freeing former terrorist leader Johnny Adair, released from the Maze prison on Tuesday.

But Dr Mowlam, who had originally challenged his early release date, said she abided by the decision of the independent commission on early release.

"I understand how difficult it is for many people, but this is part of the on-going process," she said.

[ image: Johnny Adair: Will work with prisoner release schemes]
Johnny Adair: Will work with prisoner release schemes
Adair is the only person to have been jailed in Northern Ireland for directing terrorism.

He is the former leader of the outlawed loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), in the Shankill area of west Belfast.

He was freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement having served five years of a 16-year jail term.

Waiting escort

Adair faced a media scrum but made no comment as he left the prison.

John White of the Ulster Democratic Party, which has links with loyalist paramilitaries, was there to meet him and said Adair would be working on prisoner release schemes.

Around 20 people, some of them concealing their faces with scarves, escorted Adair to a waiting car.

Johnny Adair was described at his trial on charges of directing terrorism as being "dedicated to his cause which was nakedly sectarian".

Adair, who at the time was a member of the Ulster Defence Association's six-man ruling council, was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Met Secretary of State

In January last year, after they had withdrawn their support for the peace process, he was among a group of UFF prisoners who met Dr Mowlam.

Their decision to give their continued support for the peace process helped to cool tensions and created the atmosphere which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement weeks later.

Earlier this year, on pre-release leave from the Maze, Adair was shot at a concert in Botanic Gardens in Belfast.

He escaped with only a graze and quickly discharged himself from hospital after emergency treatment, blaming republicans for the attack.

It was the second time he had survived a direct gun attack. Shortly before he was jailed in 1995 he was shot at point blank range, but as he raised his hand to protect his face, the bullet bounced off one of his chunky rings.

He was the reputed target of the Shankill Road bombing in which nine people, including an IRA bomber, were killed in 1993.

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