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Unashamed thug Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair unfit to lace boots of hero officers

Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair boasted last week that his loyalist terrorist past had never cost him a sleepless night. But the two RUC detectives who nailed the UFF godfather haven't fared so well, writes their former boss Alan Simpson

Published 09/09/2015

Johnny Adair with girlfriend Lynn Benson in Troon
Johnny Adair with girlfriend Lynn Benson in Troon
Loyalist leader Johnny Adair pictured at a mural on the Shankill Road
Ex-detective sergeant Johnston Brown
Former RUC officer Trevor McIlrath

As a retired RUC detective superintendent who was at the coal-face of anti-terror policing throughout the Troubles, mostly in west and north Belfast, I was not greatly surprised when the UDA thug and suspected sectarian serial killer Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair spoke unashamedly and without a hint of moral guilt on the BBC's Stephen Nolan show.

During the interview Adair claimed that he had never had a "sleepless night" and added that, by living in beautiful Scotland, he was now happier than he'd ever been.

There was a huge sense of irony in this for me, as he seems also to be in robust health, and this is in stark contrast to ex-detective constable Trevor McIlwrath, who, together with his erstwhile colleague, ex-detective sergeant Johnston Brown, spent almost two years painstakingly building up enough evidence to have Adair convicted of directing terrorism and sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment.

The trial judge commended both men for their courage in bringing this godfather of violence to justice.

So, how did these two fearless detectives fare after this and several other such trials?

Are they living so contentedly as Adair, as one would justly expect? Well, sadly not.

After the trial Adair's henchmen on the outside bombed Johnston Brown's home, and Trevor McIwrath's health - which was already in decline due to his arduous work on this and many other cases - was plunged into a deeper crisis that rendered him unfit for further police service (with the added loss of financial earnings).

During the whole of the Troubles I regarded myself as a dyed-in-the-wool detective and dealt with many terrorists of Adair's ilk, ranging from the "legendary" Martin Meehan of the IRA to Lenny Murphy, leader of the UVF's barbaric Shankill Butchers gang. The one constant running through all of them was their arrogance and self-delusion, which knew no bounds.

North Belfast is a particularly difficult area to police, with its many sectarian interfaces, and during my service there all of the terrorist groups - both republican and loyalist - had a strong foothold.

Violence was an almost daily occurrence and, of the 3,600 deaths arising from the Troubles, 700 of these took place in these killing grounds.

In many ways it was a fascinating time for someone such as myself, as, from my teenage years prior to the Troubles, I had had an abiding interest in the investigation of serious crimes.

Also it afforded me a unique opportunity to work with many fine detectives, but Trevor McIlwrath and Johnston Brown were truly exceptional.

They both possessed the qualitites I most repected in detectives - integrity; dedication; a high degree of knowledge of all of the local terrorist and other criminal gangs; an animal-like cunning to match that of their prey; an acute sense of when to recognise an opportunity to obtain intelligence, and a good knowledge of the laws of evidence so that they could build a case such as that which they brought against Adair.

I held these two men in such high regard that I gave them free rein to get on with their vital work of applying the first principle of policing: the preservation of life and property. They never let me down and the work they carried out was truly exceptional.

There is little doubt that they saved many lives and all without the merest hint of collusion, which to many people has, sadly, become synonomous with the last years of the RUC.

On one particularly notable occasion Trevor McIlwrath carried out a unique and courageous act on his own, as Johnston Brown was not available.

A contact within the UVF called him to say the group had a bomb made up from the powerful explosive Powergel, which is the equivalent of the Semtex used by the IRA, and it was destined to become a deadly car bomb to be placed at a Sinn Fein office just across the border in Co Monaghan.

The offices were quite close to a pub and the bomb was intended to go off at closing time to catch as many people as possible as they lingered outside the premises.

Trevor McIlwrath managed to get possession of the bomb, which placed him in a considerable dilemma. His choices were to leave it at the point it was handed over to him, perhaps putting civilains at risk if it exploded, or to drive it some distance to waste ground. He chose the latter.

But if it had gone off during the drive - undoubtedly killing him - it would have been nigh-on impossible to persuade others that he was not assisting the UVF by carrying a bomb for them.

When he got to the waste ground he immediately sent for the Army bomb disposal team and they successfuly disarmed it. Indeed, the senior bomb disposal oficer thanked McIlwrath in person, as there was a new type of timer on the device, which they hadn't encountered before.

This resulted in him being able to educate his fellow bomb disposal oficers on the workings of the timer so that they wouldn't be caught unawares when dealing with a similar device in future.

Unfortunately, the tribulations which both men endured, mainly as the result of the Adair and other such cases, did not end there, as they found they had another mountain to climb in the shape of the newly-formed Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

When any new organisation is formed there is an understandable human desire to establish its worth and, at an early stage, some of the investigators - mostly ex-members of UK police forces - interpreted the good work of McIlwrath and Brown as bordering on collusion. They went so far as to publicly arrest and question both men.

When the "evidence" held by the Ombudsman was presented to the Public Prosecution Service, it was returned with a direction that no prosecution should take place.

One would have thought that these two men would have then been allowed to get on with their well-earned retirement, but it was not to be.

In December 2013 the Ombusman staff again shone their spotlight on them.

I cannot comment further on the circumstances, as the matter remains subjudice, but it's suffice to say that both men felt compelled to call upon me to intercede and I spent several weeks looking into the allegations and submitted a substantial file to the Ombudsman, manifestly showing that they were on the wrong path.

The Ombudsman's Office quickly changed direction to such an extent that, just last month, they recontacted Johnston Brown and invited him to become a witness - a classic twist of irony if ever there was one.

There is, surely, a deep malaise in our society when proponents of violence such as Adair can now be held up almost as celebrities, while men such as Trevor McIlwrath and Johnston Brown, who did nothing but good in the pursuit of peace for the people of our troubled land, find themselves in such straits.

Alan Simpson is the author of Duplicity And Deception (Brandon)

Belfast Telegraph

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