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london calling Former UDA boss willing to reach out to exiled terror chief Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair

Frank Portinari says he would shake hands with Adair

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Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari speaks to reporter Hugh Jordon.

Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari speaks to reporter Hugh Jordon.

Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari speaks to reporter Hugh Jordon.

A top UDA boss is holding out the hand of friendship to exiled loyalist leader Johnny Adair, the Sunday World can reveal.

The olive branch gesture by Frank Portinari - who leads the UDA in London - is certain to send shockwaves through the organisation on this side of the Irish Sea.

Adair is still 'persona non grata' among UDA members in Belfast who blame him for the murder of loyalist folk hero John 'Grugg' Gregg.

But this week Portinari defiantly told the Sunday World: "If I met Johnny Adair today, I'd shake his hand."

Catholic-born Portinari (64) claims he wasn't told the full story behind a vicious loyalist feud two decades ago.

It is understood the convicted UDA gunrunner is currently writing a follow-up to his best-selling book Left Right Loyalist - From One Extreme to Another.

And it is believed Portinari will disclose previously unknown details surrounding the life and death of his one-time close friend 'Grugg' Gregg.

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John Gregg leading loyalist John 'Grug' Gregg, leader of the UDA 's South East Antrim Brigade at a loyalist rally in Belfast.

John Gregg leading loyalist John 'Grug' Gregg, leader of the UDA 's South East Antrim Brigade at a loyalist rally in Belfast.

John Gregg leading loyalist John 'Grug' Gregg, leader of the UDA 's South East Antrim Brigade at a loyalist rally in Belfast.

UDA Brigadier for South East Antrim, Gregg - who became a loyalist icon when he shot Sinn Féin chief Gerry Adams - was gunned down in Belfast's docklands area nearly 20 years ago.

On February 1 2003, Gregg and fellow UDA man Rab Carson had just returned to Northern Ireland after attending an Old Firm match in Glasgow when their taxi drove into a carefully planned ambush.

Gregg - who was sitting in the rear seat - died in a hail of automatic gunfire while Carson, who was badly wounded, died later in hospital.

The taxi driver was also hit, but Gregg's young son and a friend escaped unhurt.

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Johnny Adair in his exile in Troon

Johnny Adair in his exile in Troon

Johnny Adair in his exile in Troon

But after Gregg was gunned down, the finger of suspicion was immediately pointed at UDA Brigadier 'Mad Dog' Adair, who had been returned to HMP Maghaberry.

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But in a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday World this week, Portinari says he had now reviewed his position on many matters including the feud.

And the London-based UDA boss explained why is now prepared to bury the hatchet with exiled Adair.

He said: "I've thought about this often down through the years. But if I was travelling through an airport today and I bumped into Johnny Adair, I would shake his hand."

He added: "I didn't always think like that, but I do now."

But it is understood Portinari was unaware John Gregg - UDA Brigadier in South East Antrim - was behind two murder plots on Adair's life. One was to be as Adair dropped off his children at school.

Loyalist insiders say Adair is still convinced senior police officers colluded in the bungled murder bids.

Originally a working-class Catholic from Camden in north London, Portinari turned his back on his Labour roots when the Spurs supporter opted to become football hooligan.

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Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari speaks to reporter Hugh Jordon.

Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari speaks to reporter Hugh Jordon.

Former London UDA commander Frank Portinari speaks to reporter Hugh Jordon.

And it was through his friendship with members of the pro-fascist Combat 18 group that he first came into contact with Ulster loyalists.

He soon realised loyalists struggled to counter the slick Irish republican propaganda machine operating in the capital. And he agreed to lend support to the pro-union point of view.

"I gradually became interested in Northern Ireland. And living in north London, I witnessed the Bloody Sunday marches and the anti-internment demos.

"I worked in the building industry and obviously I heard a lot of Irish politics being debated.

"But I soon realised loyalists were way behind republicans when it came to propaganda. I began voicing my own pro-union views and gradually - because I could speak - other people began pushing me forward.

"And when the horse of being the leader of the organisation in England came along, I decided to get on," said Portinari.

In the early 1990s, Portinari became as leader of the UDA in London.

He joined the Apprentice Boys of Derry and he got a new job as a school caretaker.

But Portinari was soon using the school premises to run fundraising events for loyalist 'Prisoners of War'.

In 1993, a World in Action TV documentary exposed close links between the UDA and Combat 18 in London.

But Portinari also used the school to store weapons he acquired through gangster contacts. The guns were to be smuggled back to his UDA contacts in Northern Ireland.

The London-based UDA was also involved a number of bomb attacks on Irish pubs in London. And they were behind a two plots to kill the 'troops out'-supporting Mayor of London Ken Livingston.

Only high-profile police operation prevented the former Labour MP being shot as he spoke at a Bloody Sunday rally.

But Portinari's gunrunning activities came a cropper in 1994 when he and Belfast loyalist James McCrudden were scooped by in a car park in Birmingham as they were about to hand over a bag full of guns.

When he appeared at Birmingham Crown Court, Portinari, who was 36 at the time, was sentenced to five years in prison and 33-year-old McCrudden was sent down for 30 months.

"Frank Portinari was caught because of a police tout. But believe me the tout wasn't among Frank's men.

"The tout was in Belfast," a loyalist source said.

Portinari became close friends with 'Grug' Gregg after he and his Lon don-based UDA men scuppered a planned UVF attack on the Newtonabbey UDA at a loyalist club in Liverpool.

"We overheard a UVF band planning to ambush Grug's band when they returned to collect their drums and bannerettes from a room in the Liverpool's Derry Club," said Porinari.

"I tipped off Grug and we agreed to collect his band's things. When we walked into the club it went silent. My men collected the drums and banners and as we were leaving, a woman gestured a sarcastic goodbye wave in our direction.

"I couldn't keep my mouth shut and said, 'Typical UVF, getting a woman to do your dirty work'.

"The place erupted. But my men gave a good account of themselves when the punch-up spilled outside.

"But the staff came out and ushered the UVF band back inside.

"After that I became close friends with Grug. On trips to Belfast, I stayed at his house in Rathcoole and I got to know all his family and friends," said Portinari.

Even after Grug's murder 17 years ago, Frank Portinari remained friends with his UDA colleagues in South East Antrim.

But the relationship soured 10 years ago after the London UDA leader attended a commemoration in Dublin to honour fallen British soldiers.

Portinari had been asked to represent the UDA's English Brigade at an historic remembrance event at Islandbridge Cemetery, which was also attended by the Queen and Irish President Mary McAleese.

But when Portinari and his men later called to club in Rathcoole, he discovered there was no loyalist welcome on the mat. And he is convinced it was as a result of his stance on drugs.

"We called into the UDA club in Rathcoole, but it was obvious we were no longer welcome. I believe it was because I had publicly voiced my opposition to drugs," he said.

Portinari is pictured above left attending a remembrance event for dead UDA members in a London cemetery. Two UFF men wearing balaclavas are standing next to a regimental piper and a man wearing a British Army Guard's uniform.

But Portinari - who now works as a London guide showing tourists around the haunts of its legendary gangster community - insists he gave only permission for the paramilitary display because it marked the end of an era.

"I took the decision to allow it as a way of saying to people, 'this is the last time you'll see this."

"Times have changed. And we need to build the pro-union organisation for the conditions of today," he said.

The UDA boss added: "I've no time for barstool preachers."

hjordan.media@btinternet.com

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