Last Wednesday, Sept. 25, the UDA leadership issued a statement expelling Adair, whom they accused of “treachery” and denounced as an “agent provocateur,” using a dispute between Loyalist Volunteer Force and the UDA for his own ends. Posters bearing Adair’s image and bearing the legend “treachery” appeared in loyalist areas.
John White, his henchman and spokesman, has also been expelled from the paramilitary group, in whose name both men became multiple murderers. The now-smart-suited White has been in the UDA since its inception and is credited with helping to think up its nom de guerre, the Ulster Freedom Fighters.
Statements backing Adair, purporting to come from the UDA’s Mid-Ulster and Morth Down brigade, have been issued, but other UDA leaders insisted no such brigades even exist. Adair has the support of hundreds of men in his Lower Shankill heartland, several of whom are feared gunmen. There are fears that an outright defection to the LVF could increase the potential for bloodshed.
Adair, who recently seized back control of the West Belfast Brigade of the UDA was expelled by his five fellow brigadiers at a UDA Inner Council meeting last Wednesday. He ran the Shankill Road C Company, which has been blamed for the sectarian murder of dozens of Catholics in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
White was a member of a UDA gang that stabbed Paddy Wilson, a founding member of the SDLP, and his secretary, Irene Andrews, to death in 1973. The trial judge described it as a “frenzied attack, a psychotic outburst.”
The expulsions were in part sparked off by Adair’s links to another loyalist faction and the murder of one of its members, Stephen Warnock, a senior member of the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
Warnock was shot dead at the wheel of his car (in front of his 3-year-old daughter) two weeks ago in a move that was seen as an attempt by Adair to move his paramilitary empire into East Belfast. The LVF is a viciously anti-Catholic, drug-ridden splinter group set up by Billy “King Rat” Wright in 1996.
Police and loyalist sources claim Warnock was a drug dealer.
Three days later, Jim Gray, the East Belfast UDA commander, was summoned to talks in the house where Warnock’s body was awaiting burial. Outside the house, a gunman shot Gray in the face, but he managed to stagger to the nearby police training college for help. UDA sources said Adair was in the Warnock house when Gray was shot, and they insisted he knew and approved the attack.
Last Friday, Adair was called to a meeting in Sandy Row, South Belfast, where the other five brigadiers on the UDA Inner Council asked him to explain his actions. A senior UDA source who was present said: “To say it was heated is an understatement. To the rest of us, an attack on a UDA brigadier is an attack on the whole organization.”
Senior UDA leaders said his greed for power meant he had to go. “He has a lethal combination of ego and adrenaline,” said one. “The UDA Inner Council has made group decisions for the last 30 years, but he wanted to be top dog.”
The last time that the UDA was dominated by one man was in the 1980s, when Andy Tyrie was the chairman. It is thought Adair wanted to reestablish the “supremo” system.
It’s not the first time Adair’s ego has got the better of him. He was fond, in the 1990s, of boasting to the RUC officers he came across of his murderous exploits. They taped his boasts, producing them in court as evidence to convict him of the crime of “directing terrorism.”
Freed from jail in 1999 after serving five years of a 16-year sentence, he was reimprisoned two years ago for stoking a feud with the rival Ulster Volunteer Force during the summer of 2000 that claimed seven lives. He was released last May.
Adair insists he is committed to peace, although few find that credible. He has attended a meeting with Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary of state, Sir John Reid, and says he’s thinking of running for office in the May 2003 Assembly elections.
With his muscles pumped up from the use of steroids, heavily tattooed, sporting a skinhead haircut, he is the archetypal loyalist paramilitary. He has a dog he calls “Rebel” that he sometimes dresses in a Union Jack jacket and he refers to his younger son as “Mad Pup.”
Both sides are preparing for war. The writing is literally on the wall all over Belfast, with graffiti denouncing Adair’s detractors as “Judases.” The police are keeping a close eye on both sides, but there is a limit to the manpower they can deploy to prevent a bloodbath.
“To portray any of these paramilitaries as having some deep-seated ideology is total rubbish,” a police spokesman said. “This is about drugs, money, territory and power.”
Jack Holland contributed to this story.