Lurgan loyalist was jailed for three years in 2007 on gun charge
A construction firm part-owned by a loyalist convicted of possessing a loaded gun has been carrying out work on government buildings including HMRC’s new Belfast headquarters.
Lurgan UVF boss Arvid ‘Arvy’ Blair is a director and 25 per cent shareholder of Diamond Contract Solutions (DCS) Ltd, which has also carried out work as a sub-contractor at the Ulster University and retail giant Next.
The company specialises in fitting out and renovating large buildings, boasting a strong client-base throughout the UK and Ireland.
But what it is less keen to reveal is that one of its bosses served a prison sentence for possessing a gun used in a 2005 loyalist feud murder bid.
Blair was caged for three years in 2007 after being caught with the loaded Browning pistol which was hidden in a bin at his Lurgan home.
The weapon had been used in the attempted drive-by murder of LVF supporter Gordon Hutchinson, who was shot in the stomach and legs by the Mid-Ulster UVF.
After getting out of prison Blair was promoted to UVF boss in Lurgan.
Companies House documents reveal the 41-year-old assumed a 25 per cent share of DCS Ltd in April last year.
But Mid-Ulster loyalists are puzzled as to why the profitable firm would take him on given his terror conviction and the potential for this to damage trade.
DCS’s previous projects include HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), fitting out its £17m Erskine House headquarters in Belfast, and providing joinery work at Ulster University’s new multi-million Belfast campus. On behalf of the company, loyalist activist and paralegal Jamie Bryson said: “Diamond Contract Solutions is a successful business which adheres to all relevant legal and regulatory requirements.”
He said the firm had not been awarded any public tenders but on two occasions — prior to Mr Blair’s role in the company — “it had been subcontracted by a third party for a small piece of work.”
“That was entirely legitimate and appropriate,” he said.
“Mr Blair served his time of imprisonment and is entitled to work free from any prejudice or harassment. This is especially true in Northern Ireland whereby many persons convicted of terrorist offences have often held, and in some cases continue to hold, public office.
“There is no legal obligation to declare previous convictions of a company shareholder in a tendering process. It seems elementary to point out that a company has a distinct legal personality from any individual, and therefore if in the future the company — as it is perfectly entitled to do —were to tender for a public contract, then the company will discharge the legal requirements associated with any such process.”
According to Mid-Ulster loyalists Blair was set up for arrest by a UVF informant who is now a preacher.
Another said: “The gun Arvy was caught with was discovered in a wheelie-bin. He denied knowing anything about it, but his DNA was on it and he had to plead guilty and do three years. Arvy was furious and vowed to settle scores when he got out of jail. The UVF gave him the ‘commander’ role in Lurgan as a way to keep him onside.”
Blair’s shareholding with DCS has brought with it a more comfortable lifestyle, something that has not gone unnoticed by local loyalists.
“He’s been nicknamed ‘The Blair Rich Project’ because of his love of the good life,” added a source. Jailing Blair for possessing the gun used in the Hutchinson murder attempt, Judge Kevin Finegan said: “The public must be reminded that possession of these items must lead to a custodial sentence.”
Another 25 per cent shareholder at DCS Ltd is Graeme Stevenson who was for a time the PUP Upper Bann branch secretary. So too is his wife Carla Stevenson, with Blair’s partner Angie Thornbury holding the remaining 25%.
Latest accounts show the company to be in a strong financial position despite Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the construction sector.