Welcome to the place 'Mad Dog' Adair's family choose to call home

They make no secret of who they are, the fearsome-looking men with tattoos proclaiming the legends of Ulster, who drink at the bar. They keep the loyalist songs for home, but the local people are worried.

Welcome to Horwich in Lancashire, just five miles north of Bolton and home to some of the most feared men and women of Northern Ireland's troubles. This is the town to which many of Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair's paramilitary comrades have fled to escape war back home in Belfast.

In the countryside of the West Pennine Moors, some 50 members of Adair's notorious C Company of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the killing arm of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), settled four months ago, after the murder of one of his main loyalist rivals, John Gregg. Among the exiles are Adair's wife, Gina, 36, and two of their four children.

To the streets of this former mining town, which was a haven for young professionals, has come the fallout of the Shankill Road feud. Five shots were fired at Mrs Adair's home two months ago by one of her husband's former associates, Alan McCullough. The homesick 21-year-old had been trying to ingratiate himself with a rival gang in an effort to buy his passage back home. His reward? Abduction and murder on his return.

Quite why the group of loyalists selected Horwich as a home from home is a mystery. Next Friday, Mrs Adair goes to court in an effort to force Bolton council to give her a home. She is renting a house privately for £325 a month.

The people of Horwich take great pride in their community. But they are anxious, uneasy after the shooting and dawn raids this week by armed police investigating an unsolved double murder.

Adair's group has been blamed for the murder of more than 20 Catholics in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was jailed for 16 years in 1994 for directing terrorism but released five years later under the Good Friday Agreement.

Although he is back in prison for breach of his licence, Adair, who was kicked out of the UDA for "treason" last September, still commands fierce loyalty from the Shankill Road area. Now there are fears that the feuds among the various factions will erupt on the normally quiet streets of Horwich and Bolton.

The UDA claimed responsibility for the shooting at the Adair home and raised the prospect of further attacks by promising to "oust members of the Adair faction in Bolton". They said: "Action will be taken against anyone providing guns or a safe haven for these outcasts. They will be moved on wherever they are."

A council source said yesterday: "The police ... urged us not to give them houses. They are not happy about them [the group] being around but there's not much they can do until they get caught doing something they shouldn't.

"Officially we can't make any comment but, unofficially, we don't want to run the risk of having the council or any of our communities put at risk by these people."

The group's housing appeal is understood to have been refused because their presence could threaten community cohesion. Barbara Ronson, a Horwich councillor, said the police and the council had looked at the matter very seriously. She said: "The interests of the community must be upheld."

One local man who has seen the group drinking in the town's pubs said:"They don't make any secret of who they are. One of them even has the name 'Adair' tattooed on the back of his head. You might be able to take the boys out of Shankill, I'm not sure you can take Shankill out of the boys." None of the Shankill group shows any sign of leaving the area soon.

Among them are thought to be Jackie Thompson, believed to be running C Company while Adair is in Mughaberry jail, and brothers Sham and Herbie Miller, who police described as "very nasty pieces of work".

Mrs Adair has told officials she wants to settle her youngest children Chloe, 10, and Jay, four, at a local school. Her other children Natalie, 16, and Jonathan, 18, are believed to have returned to relatives in Belfast. Mrs Adair has claimed it would be unsafe for her to go back and the council should rehouse her as soon as possible for the sake of the children, although she is said to have told Irish newspapers she hates living in the Bolton area.

Yesterday she acknowledged she had an appeal pending at the county court against Bolton council. "I have appealed and intend to go to court but don't want to make any other comment," she said.

The case, which is being funded partly through legal aid and financial assistance from the homeless charity Shelter, is expected to be heard next month. "Just because she is related to somebody with a criminal history does not mean she should be refused a house," a spokesman for Shelter said. "This family is homeless and in fear of their safety and we will help them just as we would anyone else in a similar situation."

The Adairs and their supporters are understood to be under constant police surveillance, and extra patrols have been put on the streets to calm the fears of residents. A police spokesman said: "We will take all possible action to fight crime and protect people in the Bolton area."

But not every neighbour has been appeased. "We are all living in fear now," Margaret Woods said. "Because of them anyone of us could get caught up in their violent feud. I have children too, and I am worried sick they will get caught in something that has nothing to do with us."

Another woman, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said the best thing the Adairs and their supporters could do would be to leave. "I have spoken to a lot of other mothers and we all feel the same," she said. "If Gina Adair feels the situation is so bad that she is living in fear then she should leave the area. We don't want them here."

ADAIR'S GROUP SPREADS ITS WINGS

Driven from Ulster after the murder of John Gregg (right), supporters of Johnny Adair (bottom right) have spread their activities across Britain and abroad. The remnants of C Company have tried to set up bases in Scotland, Surrey, Bolton and Spain.

SCOTLAND: Adair's supporters have bought property in Scotland, particularly around Glasgow, Edinburgh, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire where the UDA is said to have a firm grip on underworld activities after buying into pubs, nightclubs and other businesses for money laundering and drug running.

SURREY: With millions made from protection and drugs rackets, some Adair supporters have reportedly been investing in property in Surrey with the aim of starting afresh and setting up new businesses in England.

SPAIN: Several of the former C Company members are thought to have been involved in property deals in Spain with Adair's close companion John White reportedly making several visits to the country paid for by loyalist paramilitary money.

BOLTON: Up to 20 of Adair's family and friends are known to be flitting between several privately rented properties in the Horwich and Halliwell suburbs of Bolton while they await the result of a legal challenge to the council's decision to refuse them housing.

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