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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Johnny Adair: Feared loyalist leader
Johnny Adair at the Drumcree protest
Johnny Adair (with binoculars) was spotted at the Drumcree protest
During a career described by many in the security forces as that of one of the most ruthless of loyalist paramilitaries, Johnny Adair earned an infamous reputation.

He was blamed for directing what was a gruesome sectarian war against Northern Ireland's Catholic community.

But in doing so, the only person ever convicted and jailed for directing terrorism turned himself into a top target for republican paramilitaries.

Freed in 1999 but jailed again this week amid loyalist feuding, the former leader of the Ulster Freedom Fighters courted publicity in 2000 when he publicly threw his weight behind the controversial protest at Drumcree over the disputed Portadown Orange Order march.

Infamy and attacks

Adair began his paramilitary career in his home area of Belfast, the Protestant Shankill Road.
Johnny Adair
Johnny Adair was freed early from the Maze Prison

At the time of his arrest he had become the leader of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) in the district - a position he held during some of the most violent years of UFF activity.

During the early 1990s, one of the bloodiest periods of the Troubles, loyalist paramilitary groups were responsible for more killings than the IRA.

Attacks conducted by Adair's group provoked retaliatory violence from republicans.

The infamous IRA bombing of a fish shop on the Shankill Road in October 1993 was widely believed to have been an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Adair.
The Shankill bomb of 1993
Shankill Bomb: Attempt to kill Adair

Believing Adair was in an office above the premises, two IRA men walked into the building in disguise, carrying a tray concealing the bomb.

When it exploded prematurely, it killed one of the IRA men - and nine Protestant civilians.

Although Adair himself was not there at the time, he arrived soon after the blast.

Within days, a UFF attack on the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, near Londonderry, claimed seven lives. Adair himself was being questioned by the RUC at the time.

Capture and trial

Ultimately, Adair was undone by his inability to shy away from a public reputation which had led to him becoming the latest in a string of paramilitaries from both sides to earn the street nickname "mad dog".

Adair was dedicated to his cause, which was nakedly sectarian

Prosecution lawyer, 1995

Working undercover, an RUC officer recorded months of discussions with Adair. Gradually, the paramilitary leader started to boast of his exploits and role as a UFF commanding officer, finally providing security forces with enough useable evidence to charge him.

Adair was charged with directing terrorism, a charge designed to deal with suspects known to be organising terrorism - but not pulling the triggers themselves.

At the 1995 trial, the prosecuting lawyer said Adair, then 31, was: "dedicated to his cause, which was nakedly sectarian in its hatred of those it regarded as militant republicans - among whom he had lumped almost the entire Catholic population."

He initially denied the charge but later changed his plea to guilty and acknowledged being a UFF commander for nearly three years until May 1994.

That admission earned him a 16-year prison sentence - but even within the Maze prison he continued to exercise his influence.

Mowlam talks

One of the most controversial moments of the peace process came when the former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam met Johnny Adair in the Maze in an effort to secure a continuing ceasefire ahead of the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement.
Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam: Met Adair in the Maze Prison

However, Dr Mowlam objected to Adair's early release in 1999 and she is reported to have challenged the Sentence Review Commission's preliminary decision to release Adair, despite police advice that he was too dangerous to be freed.

Nevertheless, Adair knew his release would put him in considerable jeopardy - especially after republicans succeeded in killing another loyalist leader, Billy Wright, while he was still in prison.

In May 1999, Adair was grazed on the head by a bullet while watching a rock concert at the Botanic Gardens in south Belfast, with his wife Gina.

Theories about the likely attacker varied, including a possible loyalist feud, but Adair blamed republicans.

Days before his re-arrest and return to jail in August 2000, he again claimed that he had been targetted by republicans - though others suggested that the growing feud between the UFF/UDA and the UVF may have played its part.

Indeed, hours before his rearrest, journalists filmed Adair wearing a bullet-proof vest in the heart of his own community on the Shankill Road.

In December last year the UFF named Adair as an intermediary with the body overseeing paramilitary disarmament and he has met General John de Chastelain, the head of the international commission, for talks.

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See also:

14 Sep 99 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist paramilitary leader freed
23 Dec 98 | Latest News
Terrorists home for Christmas
22 Jun 98 | Latest News
Death threat to Maze inmate
24 Mar 99 | UK Politics
Blair to focus on peace process
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