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'UVF Behind the Mask' book extract

UDA leader Johnny Adair

In this extract from UVF Behind the Mask, UDA leader Johnny Adair explains how a UVF leader 'gloated' over the death of his paramilitary friend Billy Wright.

Tensions continued to run high within paramilitary loyalism as the new millennium approached. Johnny Adair recalled being invited to a meeting with one UVF leader shortly after his release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

'I remember … [a senior loyalist] phoned me up. ‘[The Pipe] wants to see you,’ he said. And they knew I had a good friendship with the LVF. Billy had been murdered. So, seemingly, or apparently, or according to … [The Pipe] anyway, it really hurt me. This is what … [The Pipe] must have thought. We’ll get a wee dig at Johnny. He did. He sickened me to the core. So, I goes up to the PUP offices. [The senior loyalist was there and … The Pipe came in.] ‘I’ve something for you here Johnny that you might wanna see.’ And he handed me a picture.

'The taigs were driving up and down the Shankill throwing them out. I looked at the picture and, fuck me, my stomach just turned. God forgive me. And I knew [The Pipe] was doing that through malice. That was one of his men. And I looked at it and there was Billy on a slab ‘b*****k naked’, you know, on the mortuary slab, b*****k naked with all the bullet holes. I was shak’in [with anger] and I just looked at it and I knew that b****** was doing it out of spite.

‘Yeah, the taigs were throwing them’, he said. And I just looked at it, looked at [The Pipe] and I said, ‘… you remember. That was one of the best leaders

you ever had.’ And he was scundered. It backfired on him, you see. But I didn’t think that was a very nice thing to do. But that was him gloatin, pretending he wasn’t gloat’in but I knew that was the whole nature of his [demeanour].

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‘Tell Johnny I want to see him, I’ve something to give him.’ To pretend to me that the taigs were coming up the Shankill and threw that picture out of the window. They got the picture somewhere. Ah f***, it was sad. Billy lying naked on the slab with bullet holes.'

Adair walked away from the meeting angry. His close working relationship with Billy Wright and his Mid Ulster grouping from the early 1990s was

now a decade old. His insistence on maintaining the link years after Wright’s assassination would have serious consequences for paramilitary loyalism

more broadly as the year wore on.

In early August 2000, a flute band carrying LVF colours passed the UVF’s headquarters on the Shankill Road. It was seen as an act of defiance by the dozens of UVF men standing outside the Rex Bar that day. Having been drinking heavily all day they were a little worse for wear and one man, in particular, ran across the road and attacked the band.

In that one single act, the internecine feud between two rival organisations, which had been ongoing since the murder, on 10 January 2000, of the UVF’s Mid Ulster commander, Richard Jamison, exploded. It also dragged the UFF into the mix. Within minutes Johnny Adair was rumoured to have been preparing his troops for a retaliatory attack on the Rex.

One eyewitness, a photojournalist, said that he was stood across the road from a bar frequented by C Company. Adair allegedly had his men standing around

him, all hanging on his every word like a basketball coach surrounded by his players. After informing them of his plan, the group suddenly jumped

back and scarpered in different directions.

Minutes later a man came out from an alleyway carrying an AK47 assault rifle. He threw it into the boot of a car and climbed in. The car sped off up the Shankill and stopped near the Rex. The man got out, ran around to the boot of the vehicle and pulled out the weapon. He cocked it and ran up to the street corner before opening

up on the Rex. The attack wounded seven men.

It was the beginning of a feud that would see hundreds of people displaced from their homes, seven men lying dead within weeks of each other, and the heart ripped out of the loyalist community.

The UVF believed it knew the cause of the recent feud. In a speech to several hundred people gathered at the annual Brian Robinson parade in Disraeli Street, just off the Shankill Road, a masked UVF commander condemned the recent attacks. ‘The people of the Shankill Road could not stomach the destruction, pollution and deprivation being caused by the spread of the drugs trade by members of the UFF’s C Company in the lower Shankill,’ he said.

The crowd of UVF supporters were defiant. In their eyes they could see the need for maintaining arms for protection from their enemies, which now included other loyalists.

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