Belfast 'middleman' who fled UDA death sentence

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THOMAS McCREERY, who was alleged in court to be a drug-dealer and a middleman who recruited Protestant 'hitmen', has been well-known in the Belfast loyalist underworld since the early Seventies. writes David McKittrick.

Reputed to be on the run in Spain, Mr McCreery fled from Belfast early in 1991 after being shot and seriously wounded as he sat in a car outside a social club in the Shankill Road area.

The shooting was the result of an internal dispute within the Ulster Defence Association, the loyalist paramilitary group with which he had been associated for two decades.

After the shooting the UDA declared in a statement: 'We wish to make it clear that no matter what happens, he is still under sentence of death.'

A year later the UDA shot and killed a close relative, Ned McCreery, who was also a prominent member of the organisation.

Thomas McCreery had survived an earlier crisis during which it seemed likely he would be sentenced to death.

In 1988 an internal UDA memo accused him of having contacts with republican groups, such as the IRA and INLA, and of other alleged misdemeanours.

At that point Mr McCreery is said to have met senior UDA officers and apparently convinced them that one of the organisation's senior leaders had sanctioned his activities.