Adair: 'Jail me and risk the peace process'

As the Maze empties, a notorious former inmate claims he is being hunted over allegations of renewed paramilitary and drug links
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The Independent Online

Johnny Adair, the former loyalist terrorist leader, has said attempts to send him back to prison would lead to renewed violence and, in effect, the end of the peace process.

Johnny Adair, the former loyalist terrorist leader, has said attempts to send him back to prison would lead to renewed violence and, in effect, the end of the peace process.

Mr Adair, who was released early under the Good Friday Agreement from his 16-year sentence for directing terrorism, believes rival paramilitaries and senior authority figures want him dead and are supporting a campaign to send him back to prison over claims he is forging links with paramilitaries and drug dealing.

He told The Independent yesterday: "I do not believe the loyalist community will tolerate my removal. If that happens there will be a reaction and the peace process would be in danger. I am fighting to keep the peace process but others want to see me eliminated."

Mr Adair's ominous prophesy came as the final batch of terrorist prisoners were freed from the Maze yesterday under the Good Friday Agreement, amid bitter recriminations from victims and fear of more bloodshed in the future.

For many, Mr Adair is the fearsome face of a dark future being created by emptying the jails of Ulster's most ruthless terrorists. They hold him responsible for dozens of murders and maimings, a man whose blood lust may again plunge the Province into violence.

His detractors, including the police, say he not only used his early release to re-establish himself with the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters, but he is busy expanding a criminal empire based on drugs and extortion.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary objected to Mr Adair being freed under the Good Friday Agreement. It said he would renew his terrorist and drugs contacts. After this, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, took steps to block his release, but was forced to relent after the Ulster Democratic Party, the UFF's political wing, warned it might end its ceasefire.

As the prisoners came out of the Maze yesterday, Mr Adair, known to some as Mad Dog, stressed he was committed to peace. Sat in a tiny back room of the UDP offices on the Shankill Road, flanked by two Union flags, he wore khaki jeans and a T-shirt, bulging with muscles. He spoke softly: "The UVF want me six feet under and so do figures in authority. I know I'm a target and I have to spend my life looking over my shoulder. I've spent my time since I was released keeping this peace process going."

Shaking his shaven head, Mr Adair said: "They said I was a murdering bastard, now they say I'm a drug dealer and I'm involved in terrorism. [Sir] Ronnie Flanagan [the RUC Chief Constable] says he is having me kept under special observation. So where's the evidence of all my crimes?"

Mr Adair, it is said, has been forging links with the extremist Loyalist Volunteer Force whose founder, Billy "King Rat" Wright, was his mentor before he was assassinated by republicans in the Maze.

The LVF has been engaged in a murderous feud with the UVF. Mr Adair and 50 supporters travelled to the LVF stronghold of Portadown during Drumcree week.

"I'm not building up an alliance with the LVF and I do not want a civil war among loyalists. But I have friends in the LVF who I am not prepared to abandon." He added: "I do not want to get involved in a war with anyone, including republicans."The police claim Mr Adair was responsible for the murders of at least 20 Catholics.

Can he understand the fear felt at freeing him and other paramilitary prisoners? "Of course. There has been a lot of hurt, a lot of pain," he said. "But without it [the prisoners' release] there will be no peace process. It is a pity it has taken 30 years and 3,000 lives to get to this peace process."

Was he responsible for the loss of any lives? Did he ever kill anyone? "No." Was he responsible for anyone being killed? "No, never, absolutely not."