Loyalist gunman freed to a life of constant threat

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THE FIRST act of Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair on leaving the Maze prison yesterday, which was to hastily don a flak-jacket, was an entirely prudent and wise precaution for the loyalist activist to take. Adair, who served five years for directing loyalist terrorism and acting as a commander of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, was clearly all too aware that, ceasefires or no ceasefires, he will remain in danger for the rest of his life.

He is one of the band of loyalist and republican activists to achieve the kind of iconic status which means that supporters place them on a pedestal while enemies place them on a death list.

The 34-year-old Shankill Road Protestant became the 293rd prisoner to be let out under the Good Friday agreement when he walked through the Maze prison's clacking turnstile yesterday. He was released after serving around one-third of a 16-year sentence.

Adair, a stocky figure, heavily-muscled and heavily-tattooed, who wore earrings and a back-to-front baseball cap, gave a clenched fist salute in response to several dozen cheering supporters who had bedecked the exit with loyalist paramilitary flags. He was driven off at speed in a convoy of cars, in which he could be seen putting on the flak-jacket. .

Loyalist spokesman John White portrayed him as a stalwart of the peace process who, he said, "continues to believe we can resolve our differences to dialogue and non-violence". He added: "Mr Adair has given unwavering support for the peace process."

The Loyalist falls into the category of men who become so famous or infamous that they become marked men. In Johnny Adair's case confirmation of this was provided in May of this year when he literally came within inches of death: a bullet fired at him grazed his head. This was just the latest of half a dozen assassination attempts.

Recent years have seen a number of killings of such high-profile personalities in attacks which have sometimes been motivated by personal vengeance. Two well-known loyalist figures, Robert "Basher" Bates and Frankie Curry, were killed by gunmen believed to be related to their own past victims.

The same fate befell republican icon Dominic McGlinchey, once of the most-feared republican gunmen. He too is believed to have been killed by a relative of a man he killed many years earlier.

Billy "King Rat" Wright, another leading loyalist with whom Adair was friendly, was shot dead by republicans inside the Maze last year.

Northern Ireland Secretary Dr Mo Mowlam admitted yesterday that she had reservation's about Adair's release, but said he was subject to the conditions of the early release legislation. She added: "I understand how difficult it is for many people, but this is part of the on-going process."

t The Government has started redundancy negotiations with RUC officers. Senior civil servants met rank and file representatives to discuss lay- off terms after former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten proposed halving the force from 13,000 to 7,500.