Interview: Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair

Mad about Troon

The Sunday Times, May 7, 2006

THE waitress in the Strawberry Cushion cafe puts down a cup of tea in front of Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair. She tentatively asks him if it is too strong or too weak. He says it is fine, to her obvious relief. When you are serving Troon’s resident former terrorist, reputed to have the blood of 40 murders on his hands, it is best to be careful about such things.

Adair is comically out of place in the twee seaside cafe in this drab Ayrshire town. At other tables elderly couples munch scones and try to eavesdrop. He sits in a booth talking about bullet fragments and assassination attempts. He is dressed in a lilac-striped Diesel T-shirt that shows off tattooed arms pumped up to Popeye proportions.

One tattoo amid the loyalist insignia declares his love for Gina, his wife of 23 years, who is receiving treatment for ovarian cancer. Last September he was convicted of assaulting her in a park in Bolton, Lancashire — punching and kicking her and dragging her by her hair with such force that a handful was torn from her scalp. Gina, dubbed Mad Bitch by the tabloids, remains in Bolton with three of their four children.

For the past seven months, Adair’s home has been in a terrace of red sandstone houses in Gillies Street, a short hop from the beach where the 42-year-old runs twice a week. He has recently been joined by his 20-year-old son, Jonathan, who has drug-dealing convictions and is known, inevitably, as Mad Pup. One newspaper reported his arrival with the headline: “I’ve come for my paw”.

When news broke of Adair’s presence in Troon, the reaction in the town was a combination of bewilderment and anxiety. One local describes how he was mowing his lawn and glanced up to find a bullet-headed convicted terrorist standing on the other side of the garden wall staring at him. “What the f*** are you looking at?” growled Adair. The man immediately scurried inside his house.

Adair spoke to The Sunday Times about his new life in Scotland, and in his soft Belfast drawl he says Ayrshire is much to his liking, reminding him of loyalist enclaves across the water. “It’s a mirror image of back home, minus the trappings of flags and bunting etc,” he says. “The people of Scotland are as warm as our people.” Presumably he means Ayrshire Protestants — Adair is sectarian to his marrow and once infamously remarked to a journalist from the Irish republic that she was the first “live” Catholic to ride in his car.

He regularly throws a glance out of the cafe window, as befits a man whose former colleagues in the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) now want him dead as a result of a bloody loyalist feud. The sunlight catches his TAG Heuer watch and the square silver earring in his left lobe.

He sums up what he is seeking from life in Troon. “Peace,” he says. “I just feel the need to be left alone. My life has not been easy, but that’s my fault. As a result of past conflicts I’ve spent a third of my life in prison.

“I have been shot on a number of occasions, had bombs thrown at me and had my home attacked. I’ve paid my debt to society and I think I should be left alone to live the rest of my life in peace, with no harassment from the police, the media or anyone.”

So what brings one of Ulster’s most notorious terrorists to a sleepy corner of Scotland best suited to golf and retirement? Should Ayrshire be worried at the presence of a man with one of the bloodiest reputations in the history of Northern Ireland’s Troubles? And should we believe Mad Dog when he claims that these days he is a pussycat?

IN person, Adair is much shorter than expected — 5ft 7in at the very most. His most distinctive feature are his eyes — piercing blue with a steady gaze. His demeanour is quiet, calm and polite. He doesn’t once raise his voice.

He sees himself as a soldier, albeit one who has retired. “I’ve no regrets about my past, none whatsoever,” he says, taking a sip of tea and refusing the offer of a sticky bun. “I fought. I defended a cause I believed in that was close to my heart. I wasn’t a criminal — I wasn’t a man who was out raping people or robbing banks.

“I was engaged in a conflict against the republican armies of Ulster. Like thousands of other Protestants and Catholics, I got caught up in it and I defended my homeland from an IRA threat. I felt proud to do that and I believe my actions contributed to the peace process.”

He rose to prominence in the UDA in the early 1990s, becoming leader of the infamous C Company of the Shankill Road and earning his Mad Dog tag because of his appetite for violence. According to security sources, he ordered the death of up to 40 Catholics and simultaneously amassed a personal fortune from criminal activities.

It was his penchant for self-promotion that brought him down. He was befriended by two police officers and boasted to them about his exploits in the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the group associated with some of the most random sectarian killings in the history of the Troubles. In 1995 he was sentenced to 16 years for directing terrorism. He was released in 1999 under the Good Friday agreement but was re-arrested twice for breaking the terms of his release through involvement in the drug trade.

It was during his second bout of freedom that Adair became locked in the bloody feud that was to send him into exile, a figure of hate to his former comrades.

He is accused of manipulating a vicious dispute between the UDA and the UVF to launch a power bid for leadership of the UDA. The feud continued despite Adair’s re-arrest and, while he was in jail, his cohorts were blamed for the assassination in February 2003 of John Gregg, a fellow UDA brigadier, in a taxi at Belfast docks while he was returning from a Rangers match in Glasgow.

It was the final straw for the UDA. A convoy of seven cars took Adair’s family and closest allies to the port where they boarded a ship for Britain. On Adair’s release in January 2005, he was flown by RAF helicopter to Manchester to begin a new life in exile in Bolton.

What would he say to those who look at a convicted terrorist in their midst and believe a leopard does not change its spots? Adair looks slightly hurt at this thought.

“Well, look at Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness,” he says. “They’ve gone on to become members of the government. Everyone has to be given the chance to change.

“My actions were only because of the past conflict in Northern Ireland. The war is over. So I don’t need to get engaged in anything like that again. I’ve done my bit and there’s peace over there now. I’m not going to run about doing anything like I did.”

And what would he say to those people in Troon who do not like him being in their town? “I’d say he is entitled to be in this community because he is a British citizen.”

Some of the concern surrounding Adair’s presence is the fear that Troon could be the venue for an assassination attempt. Does he feel safe here? “Absolutely.”

He is not worried that somebody could be sent to kill him? “The chances of that happening are nil. You should never underestimate your enemy, but the chances of someone coming from Belfast and killing me are non-existent.

“These people are cowards. They wouldn’t have the intelligence to put a plan into operation to assassinate me. I say that because I know their strengths and their weaknesses, because at one time I was charged with directing their activities.”

Last year, in a gesture of defiance, Adair was back on Belfast’s Shankill Road with a press photographer. He was snapped outside the house of a sworn enemy at 5am.

It was a photo-opportunity he had arranged, keen as ever to demonstrate his nerve and keep his memory alive in Belfast’s loyalist circles.

A Belfast community worker who knew him well believes Adair will not stay in Troon long. “He really can’t seem to stay out of the Shankill,” he says. “He gets stuck into everything that goes on here. For someone who was born and bred on the Shankill, it’s hard to settle anywhere else.”

Adair concurs. “One day it’s my intention to go back. On a daily basis I see my enemies being punished for what they have done, without me having to do anything. I believe that what goes around will come around and in a week, a month, a year or maybe three years I will return. That’s my intention.”

But return to do what? “If and when I return, I will live peacefully and hopefully it will be to an environment where there is no more threat. Hopefully the people who have threatened my life will no longer be about, because there is only a handful.”

Adair says he has kept out of trouble in Scotland, but that is not strictly true. He boasted of attacking Belfast-based Celtic fans who had taunted him about his wife in an Ayrshire bar after last month’s Old Firm match. A newspaper quoted him as saying: “We beat up a load of Celtic fans. They were taunting me, but they regretted it and had to run for their lives. This is my patch and they should keep their mouths shut.”

He was also convicted of drink-driving and banned. He holds his hands up to this. “If you break the law and the police are there and they catch you, I’m old enough to realise what happens. I respect the law. The law is there to keep bad boys at bay.”

Without a hint of irony, he adds: “But I’m not a bad boy.”

PERHAPS surprisingly, many in Troon believe him. The novelty of having Adair in their midst has worn off. Among locals there is a remarkable degree of equanimity about him.

At the Spar shop at the end of his road, a smartly dressed 34-year-old local government official and her three-year-old daughter are shopping. She describes how her husband recently encountered Adair in a taxi queue after a night out in Prestwick.

“Although my husband is more than capable of holding his own, it’s best just to keep out of his way,” she says. “As long as they keep out of trouble and go about their life, why should people worry? I can understand it makes a difference to people in the town with Irish contacts, but apart from them, people have stopped caring.”

She declines, however, to give her name.

As for the police, they are coy about their concerns. “We are aware of the whereabouts of Mr Adair,” said a Strathclyde police spokeswoman. “As a UK citizen not subject to any restrictions, he is free to enter Scotland should he wish to do so. The fact he has chosen to do so is clearly of interest to us.”

Adair says the police have not harassed him as much as the Greater Manchester police did in Bolton, where CCTV cameras covered the front and back of his house. They have, however, dissuaded Ayrshire pub and club owners from allowing Adair to drink on their premises. He is irritated to have been banned from his two favourite nightclubs in Ayr, which is cramping his social life.

He knows that in Troon his every move is being watched, albeit more discreetly than in England.

“If the Strathclyde police didn’t have me under surveillance, they wouldn’t be doing their job. I am Johnny Adair. I was.” He stops and corrects himself. “I am a prominent person. I have a past. Hopefully, it stays back home where it belongs.”

That, at least, is something on which Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair and his neighbours in Troon can heartily agree.

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Columnist and senior writer with @TheTimes in Scotland. Using Medium to archive some of my writing from 35 years in journalism.

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Kenny Farquharson

Columnist and senior writer with @TheTimes in Scotland. Using Medium to archive some of my writing from 35 years in journalism.