'coming clean' | 

Soldier fighting in Ukraine who was once jailed for setting pal on fire denies UDA links

McCroary denied claims that he was a Nazi sympathiser who chased up drugs debts in the Ballymena Bible belt for the UDA

Ex-soldier Alan McCroary from Ballymena pictured at the airport as he makes his way to Ukraine to fight against invading Russians

Hugh Jordan

A Northern Ireland-born soldier and ex-prisoner who is on his way to fight in Ukraine has denied reports that he was once a UDA enforcer who collected drugs debts.

Alan McCroary - a former Irish Guardsman from Ballymena - arrived in Eastern Europe last week.

And he is presently on his way to engage Putin's Russian army as it attempts to lay siege to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

But as soon as he landed in the war-torn country, McCroary (33) said he wanted to "come clean" about his past life of crime, which included serving 16 months in jail for setting fire to a friend.

"I could be killed out here in the Ukraine and I want the people back home to know the truth," he told the Sunday World.

McCroary denied claims that he was a Nazi sympathiser who had formerly been a UDA heavy who chased up drugs debts in the Ballymena Bible belt.

Alan McCroary

"It's true to say I set a man's clothes on fire at a party. It was a drunken prank and I bitterly regret it.

"The victim was a friend of mine who had fallen asleep and I used an aerosol spray to direct a flame towards his backside. But there's a huge difference between an aerosol spray and a flame-thrower.

"Afterwards we sat and had a drink together and as we had filmed it, we put it up on Facebook. That's what got me convicted. The truth is, it was a stupid drunken prank and nothing else," said McCroary. "I was in my early 20s at the time and I should never have done it."

McCroary also received a three-month suspended sentence when police in Ballymena found him in possession of a large knife.

McCroary claimed he used it only on fishing trips, although he openly admitted he shouldn't have had it on his person in the streets of his home town.

"I have a past. But I also have a present and a future and that's helping the people of Ukraine," he said.

"I have never been arrested or even questioned by police about the UDA or drugs. It's absolute nonsense to suggest it and everyone who knows me knows that to be the truth. To say I'm linked to the UDA is to say I'm a terrorist. And it's just not true.

"Yes, I also admit I was once involved with the (far-right) Order 777 group, but it was only for a short time and I quit when I saw the direction it was taking and surely I deserve credit for that.

"I joined the Army in 2004 when I was 16 because I wanted to make something of myself.

"I served seven years in Belize, Iraq and Kenya. And then I was medically discharged in 2011 after being diagnosed with PTSD as a result of what I gone through in Iraq.

"Some people claim I was also a mercenary, but that's not true either. I was a volunteer soldier and the British government changed the law to allow people like me to do it.

"I served in the Ukraine for a year from 2016-2017. And I worked for a security firm in the Gambia where I was training the police in how to protect foreign embassies."

He added: "I've worked all my days doing dangerous and responsible jobs."

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