After ten months of sheltering the remnants of one of Northern Ireland's most feared terrorist units, the residents of north Bolton's grim back streets were beginning to think they had acclimatised to life in a Loyalist outpost. Shootings, public death threats and raids by armed policehave all visited them since Johnny Adair's wife Gina and his lieutenants arrived in February.
But the experience took on a disturbing new Belfast-like authenticity at Windsor Close in the town's Halliwell district yesterday, when an apparent block of Semtex tumbled from beneath a Ford Escort, together with the magnets that had been used to attach it.
The device was aimed at John "Fat Jackie" Thompson, one of Adair's closest colleagues. He may owe his life to the rattle he heard beneath his car, which made him stop and examine it. A detonator went off, but the bomb did not detonate.
Gina Adair, 37, should have been making all the local headlines yesterday. She was appearing before Bolton magistrates with her 19-year-old son Jonathan, charged with conspiracy to supply heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine. Five others, including a 13-year-old boy, also faced charges.
But instead it was Thompson in the limelight. He was a gunman for Adair's 'C' company in the early 1990s and Adair is said to contact him compulsively by mobile phone from Mughaberry prison. Thompson served time in the Maze prison alongside Adair and lives around the corner from Mrs Adair.
He was among several trusted associates, also including Herbie and Sham Miller, Ian Tuesdale and Wayne Dowie, who - via Scotland - arrived in this north Manchester overspill after the murder of one of Adair's main loyalist rivals, John Gregg.
Why Bolton? Some sources suggest that Manchester was simply the place where the Adair clan's money ran out. Others point to Adair's links with Bolton's neo-Nazis, including the local branch of Combat 18, billeted in homes on loyalist estates during Drumcree parades in the late 1990s.
The group has brought violence from the start. Within two months, five shots were fired through a window of Mrs Adair's home by one of her husband's former associates, Alan McCullough. Then armed police investigating an unsolved double murder raided some of their homes.
The Ulster Defence Association claimed responsibility for shooting Mrs Adair's home and raised the prospect of further attacks by promising to "oust members of the Adair faction in Bolton". The group warned: "Action will be taken against anyone providing guns or a safe haven for these outcasts. They will be moved on wherever they are."
Granted, Bolton has had its share of gang feuds. The execution of drugs lord Billy Webb earlier this year sparked attacks between feuding sects as they picked over his territory. But there was only bewilderment yesterday as police closed off the network of rat-runs near Windsor Close and evacuated 25 people.Reuse content