06 October 2005

Ulster strongman's death fit a familiar pattern

The Boston Globe

Ex-UDA leader slain in street by gunmen

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff
October 6, 2005

Even as peace is breaking out in Northern Ireland, there are a handful of men for whom the question is not if they will be killed, but when.

By many accounts, 47-year-old Jim Gray was one of those men.

As commander of the East Belfast brigade of the Ulster Defense Association, a loyalist paramilitary group, Gray struck fear in Catholics, who were surrounded by hostile Protestants in a neighborhood whose lost privilege is symbolized by the cranes of the formerly bustling shipyards that still dominate the horizon. Since its creation in 1971, the UDA has killed about 400 people, most of them Catholics chosen at random.

Gray, whose nickname, ''Doris Day," drew on his loud clothing, garishly dyed blond hair and year-round tan that made him stand out in a city of sartorial conservatism and pasty complexions, was also an alleged drug dealer and racketeer. Such activity historically has been tolerated in loyalist circles until there was a falling out with the powers that be.

Since he was expelled from the UDA last spring, Gray's days were numbered. His survival was chalked up mostly to his having been in jail from April until a few weeks ago, when he was freed on bail to await trial on charges of laundering drug money.

So it was far from shocking for many in East Belfast who looked out their windows Tuesday night and saw Gray's body lying beneath a blood-stained white sheet. He may have known the two men with guns who witnesses said approached him outside his house. They certainly knew him.

The police officer leading the investigation into the slaying, Superintendent George Hamilton, said Gray may have been killed by erstwhile comrades-in-arms. There is a long tradition within the UDA, especially in East Belfast, of internecine warfare.

Gray's path to power was paved by the assassination of the UDA commander in whose image he seemed to be created: Jim Craig. Like Gray, Craig was constantly tanned from frequent visits to locales far sunnier than Belfast, and invariably involved in some criminal enterprise that had nothing to do with keeping Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom.

In 1988, after his friends concluded that Craig had been helping their enemies in the Irish Republican Army to kill off loyalist rivals, the UDA lured Craig to an East Belfast pub with the promise of fencing a large consignment of stolen jewelry. Craig had a pint of beer in his hand when his assassins opened fire.

After Craig's killing, William ''Billy" Elliott became UDA brigadier in East Belfast. But after his arrest, Elliott feared he would be branded an informer and bumped off like Craig. Upon his release from jail, Elliott simply up and left Belfast.

Craig's sudden demise and Elliott's equally sudden departure made Gray's rise in the UDA leadership especially meteoric. In their book, ''UDA: Inside The Heart of Loyalist Terror," Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald note that Gray ''looked more like an aging New Romantic than the leader of a terrorist group."

Yesterday, Cusack recalled that Gray was an accomplished golfer whose grasp of the game did not extend to its emphasis on sportsmanship: Gray was banned from the Ormeau Golf Club in Belfast after he beat up someone who had bested him on the course.

While some loyalist leaders tried to emulate the IRA by calling cease-fires and promoting a political approach to ending the conflict, Cusack said, Gray was an old-fashioned sectarian racketeer who used the cover of ''the cause" to fund a comfortable lifestyle amid a growing sea of poverty in East Belfast, where the guaranteed jobs in the shipyards and factories disappeared.

''He was forever going off to Spain," Cusack said in a telephone interview. ''He had property in Spain."

He had enemies in Belfast. Geordie Legge, a UDA member, had openly complained about the way Gray and the East Belfast brigade were making money and living large. One night in 2001, Legge was abducted from the same East Belfast pub where Craig was killed. When police found Legge's disfigured body in a field the next day, it showed signs of torture.

Johnny ''Mad Dog" Adair, leader of the UDA's feared ''C" company of West Belfast, held Gray responsible for Legge's murder, and there are some who believe it was that grudge that led to an assassination attempt on Gray the following year. Adair himself was driven out of Belfast last year by UDA feuding.

Cusack said many loyalists suspected Gray was a police informer. That suspicion intensified after Gray was thrown out of the UDA.

Yesterday, police arrested six people for questioning in Gray's killing. Cusack said police also want to question an East Belfast man who some believe could have been behind Gray's slaying. It is the same man who was suspected of but never charged with being one of the assassins who gunned down Craig in the Bunch of Grapes pub in East Belfast 17 years ago.

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