David Granville reviews Mad Dog: the rise and fall of Johnny Adair and 'C Company' by David Lister and Hugh Jordan and The Billy Boy: the life and death of LVF leader Billy Wright, Mainstream Publishing, £15.99 hbk (each)
AFTER YEARS of neglect as a subject worthy of study, recent years have witnessed a steady stream of studies, varying in quality, exploring the meaning and experience of Ulster loyalism.
Mad Dog and The Billy Boy deal with two of the most deadly and feared exponents of militant loyalism in recent times.
Despite the obvious similarities as directors of sectarian terror, the two men had little else in common. While the stereotypical image of the boastful, psychotic, bigoted and lumpen loyalist thug could have been based on Adair, Wright’s religious fundamentalism, quiet, reflective intellect and personal abstemiousness could not have provided a greater contrast.
Adair fell into loyalist paramilitary activity by chance after local UDA leaders presented him and his gang of out-of-control, youthful criminals with an offer they couldn’t refuse -- join up, or suffer the consequences.
Lister and Jordan chart Adair’s murderous career and rise to prominence as the leader of the UFF’s notorious Lower Shankill C Company through to his expulsion from the UDA in 2002 following a bitter internal feud.
What will at first appear bewildering to those only vaguely familiar with Britain’s covert war against militant republicanism is the level of impunity with which Adair and his gang of sectarian killers operated.
Unfortunately, it isn’t until p148 that the authors offer a credible explanation: “Only in the topsy-turvy world of Northern Ireland, where justice tends to coincide with Britain’s wider political agenda, could such a man have freely walked the streets for so many years.”
Even so, the author’s insist that Adair was never a paid informer, although many of his associates undoubtedly were and it is clear that he was happy to pass on information about his fellow loyalist thugs to those in the security services and police with whom he came in contact.
It was Adair’s propensity for bravado and for flaunting his knowledge of loyalist terrorist activities, and the changing political climate which necessitated a change in covert British support for loyalist terror gangs, which eventually led to his trial and incarceration for controlling terrorism in 1993.
Released in 1995, Adair focussed his attentions on securing overall control of both the UDA and the lucrative drug-running industry in the north -- in the process unleashing a bloody civil war within loyalism, which was to lead his reimprisonment, expulsion from the UDA and the hounding of Adair supporters from their former Shankill stronghold.
While there is much to be admired in Lister and Jordan’s book about Adair, Chris Anderson’s study of LVF leader Billy Wright , The Billy Boy, is an uneven, and at times shoddy, affair.
In the first third of the book, the author offers little more than a shallow, sanitised and spectacularly rose-tinted account of Wright’s upbringing, motivation and subsequent involvement in a campaign of sectarian murder and violence, which struck fear into Catholics and nationalists throughout, and beyond, the LVF’s mid-Ulster base.
Although we are told of Wright’s intelligence and religious conviction -- for a brief spell he was an evangelical preacher -- there is little about his ideological beliefs beyond vague references to his love of Ulster and the union with Britain and his hatred of the IRA.
There is but a cursory mention of Billy’s troubled childhood or the sexual abuse experienced by his sisters, and possibly by Wright himself -- most of which occurred after all five of the Wright children were taken into care.
Nor is there anything about the influence of his, anti-Catholic uncle, Cecil McKinley, Paisleyism or his relationship with the UDA/UFF loyalist killer and religious fundamentalist Kenny McClinton.
Anderson’s simplistic attempt to portray Wright as principled loyalist who had good relations with Catholics throughout his childhood and who was not motivated by sectarian bigotry lacks both intellectual rigour and credibility. (For a brief, but more insightful account see The Trigger Men by Martin Dillon.)
This is regrettable given that that the following two-thirds of the book deals in detail with Wright’s murder by the INLA whilst the in the top-security Maze prison and sets out the case for a full and independent inquiry into the circumstances of his death. Few seriously believe that Wright’s murder could have been carried out without the assistance of prison or security personnel. As such, the campaign for an inquiry, led by Wright’s father, has been entirely justified.
Unfortunately, Anderson’s selectivity concerning Wright’s loyalist paramilitary activities makes this book a poor vehicle for broadening support for an inquiry into Wright’s death.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2004 David Granville