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13 January 2005 Edition

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Protecting a killer

BY JIM GIBNEY

Where does a state's duty of care begin and end?

That's the question I asked myself when I heard on the radio the other day that UDA leader, Johnny Adair, was released early from prison and was whisked off in a British Army helicopter to his family in Bolton, England.

No one from the Northern Ireland Office spoke to the media to explain the reason for this dramatic development. The public have been left to interpret the reason why from comments made by journalists reporting the event.

There is only one explanation available from the journalists; his life was threatened by his former comrades.

So the British Government acted to protect the life of a man who is known to be responsible for the deaths of dozens of Catholics and many from within his own community.

They acted to protect a man who caused untold misery to many thousands of people through the drugs empire that he was building up across the Six Counties.

They acted to protect a man who brought the Shankill Road community to its knees through a reign of terror.

Why, you might ask, did they act in this way? Why do they value Adair's life so highly?

Every day in the week there are people being released from prisons in Britain with similar reputations to Adair's.

They too, in many instances, face the wrath of their former cohorts, yet the British Government wouldn't dare permit a police or military authority to act as they did with respect to Adair.

Their attitude would be 'you're the author of your own misfortune'. Once you step outside the gates of the prison you are on your own.

They would have that view because public opinion, rightly so, is angered at the idea that criminals who inflict so much hurt on innocent people and profit from their crimes would be protected by the forces of the state.

I think we are going to have to look for a less benign reason to explain the British Government's actions in protecting Adair.

It is arguable that this is the third occasion in the last few years Adair has enjoyed the protection of the state. On the previous occasions he was arrested and sent back to prison.

Then, there was no shyness on the part of the British Secretary of State or any other Minister to explain why Adair was being put back in prison.

His detention was carried out in a blaze of publicity and we were told it was to protect the public from his violent activities.

He was seen as a threat to the Peace Process and an embarrassment to the British Government, as he strutted around the Lower Shankill with his entourage.

Yet there were a few dissenting voices who said that he was arrested on the orders of the RUC Special Branch; that he was an agent who needed to be protected because he might be needed in the future.

Better in prison alive than on the outside facing certain death.

Over the last 30 years of conflict, the British crown forces have handled many loyalist agents. They have used these agents to do the work that the crown forces could not do, such as killing Catholics.

And while excellent work has been done by relatives and human rights groups to highlight this aspect of collusion, rarely do we get an example of the British Government and its security agencies acting in such a blatant manner to protect someone as notorious as Adair.

It will not be lost on the relatives of those it is believed Adair was involved in killing nor on the people of the Shankill Road or the many others whose lives he damaged that the taxes they pay to government will be used to foot the bill to pay for the British soldiers who accompanied him, the helicopter used to carry him and other less visible costs.

I noticed such care and attention for this sectarian bigot drew very little comment one way or the other from those in this country who are quick to condemn republicans when they think they have overstepped a mark.

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