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Drugs probe Ex-UVF brigadier Paul Gray says he's left criminal life behind as cops raid property

Gangster Gray is latest target of PSNI task force's war on drugs

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Police moved on the home and businesses of Paul Gray

Police moved on the home and businesses of Paul Gray

Police moved on the home and businesses of Paul Gray

Former UVF North Antrim Brigadier Paul Gray insisted to the Sunday World this week after his house was raided by anti-terror cops: "I've given up crime".

The convicted criminal spoke out after crimebusters raided his Ballymena home and business premises and seized electronic devices and a car.

The raids came after the death of drug kingpin Noel Johnston, who fell 50ft from a flat when cops were bursting through the front door two weeks ago.

This week Gray was holed up in his Ballymena house as the PSNI's Paramilitary Crime Task Force continues to trawl Ulster's Bible belt uncovering fresh evidence in the war against drugs.

"I'm not coming to meet you and you're not coming to my home," Gray told the Sunday World in an exclusive interview this week.

And when we told Gray we believed he was the prime target of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force operation in Ballymena, Gray said: "What can I do about it? I just leave it in the hands of my lawyer."

Gray claimed he was happy to work these days as an honest businessman and he had put criminality behind him.

"Everyone has a past Hugh, especially in a place like this. But I'm just trying to survive," he said.

Gray also said the continued police seizure of his DLA car was causing concern as he needed the vehicle to get about.

"I was given the Jeep because of my health problems," he said.

And Gray denied knowing anything about Johnston's drugs connections.

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"I had known Noel for several years. He used to come into the cafe for his breakfast and we used to chat. I liked him.

"I've read everything about him over the years. But I can honestly say I've never seen anything which would connect him to drugs and especially heroin."

On Wednesday, heavily armed cops raided Gray's home in the smart Knockkeen Road area as well as two businesses linked to him in the Co Antrim town. Officers seized Gray's grey Jeep and two mobile phones.

For the first time, the police admitted the raid on Gray's home was connected to "ongoing drug-related criminality".

A PSNI spokesman said: "A number of electronic devices were seized together with a vehicle during the search operation. These will be subject to further examination."

He added: "Members of the public with information regarding drug dealing are encouraged to call 101 or they can submit a report online using our non-emergency reporting form via http:/psni.police.uk/makeareport/."

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Reporter Hugh Jordan leaves Paul Gray’s bar

Reporter Hugh Jordan leaves Paul Gray’s bar

Reporter Hugh Jordan leaves Paul Gray’s bar

 

Earlier this week, the Sunday World attempted to have a face-to-face interview with the elusive crime boss.

We called at the Coach Bar and the Fresh Sandwich Shop in Ballymena town centre looking for Gray. Both businesses are run by Gray's partner Pauline McKay.

In Ballymena business circles it had been suspected - perhaps wrongly - that Gray and Johnston provided the start-up money for both businesses, although Ms McKay insisted that was not the case.

"These are my businesses. The pub and the sandwich shop are mine. I do all the work in them. I'm up at four in the morning to get things going and it has nothing to do with Paul or Noel for that matter," she told the Sunday World.

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Noel Johnston

Noel Johnston

Noel Johnston

The police raid which lead to Johnston's death was part of a larger operation into drugs-related crime in Ballymena and north Antrim. Vast amounts of cash and drugs have been seized and more arrests are expected as tensions grow within criminal and paramilitary circles.

For over three decades, Johnston - the man who brought heroin into Northern Ireland - was at the centre of the drugs trade outside Belfast. He was the right-hand man of Magherafelt crime machine Colin Lees, a businessman who was eventually sent to jail for 25 years when he was convicted of masterminding a multi-million drugs operation.

Last week, the Sunday World revealed that before his death, Johnston (61) was due to face serious fraud charges in what was set to be Northern Ireland's largest non-paramilitary trial, with 30 co-accused appearing in the dock alongside him.

Crime boss Paul Gray was born on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast, where his father was well known to police.

As a youngster, his first foray into crime was when he broke into and robbed a busy newsagent and tobacconists store on Connsbrooke Avenue.

But he came a cropper when he and his mates attempted to carry out a wages snatch at a well-known drinks wholesaler in east Belfast. Caught red-handed, Gray was given a lengthy sentence behind bars.

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Pauline Gray’s sandwich shop

Pauline Gray’s sandwich shop

Pauline Gray’s sandwich shop

 

And on his release from Crumlin Road Prison, he and his then wife and their two children upped sticks and moved to a new house on Ballymena's Ballykeel estate. But it wasn't long before he came to the attention of the local paramilitaries and he was the target of several so-called punishment attacks.

Eventually, Gray was given an ultimatum: "Join the UVF or we shoot you."

The offer was too good to refuse and within weeks Gray was parading around loyalist bars as a UVF member.

And following the historic republican and loyalist ceasefires, Gray assumed leadership of the UVF in north Antrim.

But he was also a constant thorn in the side of the Belfast-based UVF leadership which received numerous complaints about his criminal activities.

In the end the UVF grew weary of Gray and when a large sum of cash went missing from a special Somme Commemoration Fund, they moved against him.

Gray was booted out and forced to survive without UVF backings. And he was also required to repay a substantial sum of money to the UVF.

It was around this time he took up with Catholic criminal Johnston.

It is believed the connection was made by people Gray knew through his love of big-time poker games.

And his partner Ms McKay added: "Paul's not the man he once was, I'll tell you that."

hjordan.media@btinternet.com

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