Johnny ‘Mad Dog' Adair names man who tried to shoot him dead at UB40 concert
Government files released this week under the 30 year rule show the Adair murder bid sent spooks on both sides of the border into a tail spin of panic
Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair has revealed this week for the first time who shot him in the head at a UB40 concert – and it wasn’t the Provos.
The former UFF terror chief says it was instead leading drug dealer Ed McCoy – who himself was shot dead by the IRA within a year of attacking Adair.
Secret government files released this week under the 30-year rule show the Adair murder bid sent spooks on both sides of the border into a tailspin of panic.
At the time of the attack, the UFF boss was still serving a 16-year jail sentence for directing terrorism.
But he had been freed on a pre-release parole scheme following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. And he had bought two tickets for a UB40 concert as a birthday present for his wife Gina.
Adair and his wife were swaying to the sound of his favourite reggae band in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens when he was suddenly shot in the head.
With blood streaming down his face, he was rushed to hospital in a taxi where surgeons removed a bullet fragment from his skull.
Newly released records reveal the murder bid on Adair had reportedly failed only because the would-be assassins had used a damp bullet which had drastically reduced its lethal impact.
At the time, all-party peace talks at Stormont had reached a crucial stage.
And if the IRA was responsible, then it was clear the republican terror group’s fragile four-year ceasefire was over.
But the Sunday World can reveal for the first time today that so desperate were the security services to prevent an immediate loyalist backlash, they dispatched two top RUC men to convince Adair the IRA hadn’t been involved.
In an exclusive interview yesterday, Adair told the Sunday World: “In the immediate aftermath, I hadn’t a clue who had shot me. Of course, I suspected the IRA. Republicans had been trying to kill me for years.
“But two detective superintendents came to see me and they asked if I knew who had done it. I said I had no idea, but I had assumed it was republicans.
“The police knew I held the key to the next step. They knew the UFF would have been out for immediate revenge. And when they spoke to me, they maintained it definitely wasn’t the IRA who had shot me.
“The cops then asked if I knew a man called Eddie. I said yes. In fact I knew two. One was a well-known republican and one was a loyalist who’d been in jail with me, but the RUC men insisted neither of them were involved.
“Eventually, I forced them to tell me. They said it was a man called Ed McCoy, a former boxer and Antrim hurler who was a well-known Catholic drugs dealer, but I’d never heard of him,” Adair said.
“McCoy had been accompanied by a close pal from west Belfast. And they had both attacked me. But the cops were desperate to convince me it wasn’t the IRA.”
Recalling the murder bid in great detail, Adair said: “It was after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and everyone was on ceasefire.
“I loved UB40 and I convinced myself I’d be alright at a concert in Botanic Gardens. Friday 1st May 1999 was a lovely sunny evening in Belfast, when Gina and I headed off.
“I knew republicans from south Belfast were acting as stewards and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I wore a black beanie hat pulled low across my face.
“Big-name bands just didn’t come to Belfast because of the security situation, so this was really something different. I was a real UB40 fan and I knew the words to all their songs.
“I was standing behind Gina with my arms around her. The lads played a song and it was the only one I didn’t like, but we were still swaying to the music. I was really happy.
“And then it happened. BANG! I knew I had been shot in the head. The pain was horrendous, but I was still conscious.
“I could hear Gina screaming, but I couldn’t see anything. My eyesight had gone. I was blinded.
“I felt blows raining down on me and I knew the only way to survive was to fight back. My eyesight came back, but blood was still streaming down into my eyes.
“I could see a big man hitting me. I knew by his stance he was a boxer and his mate was helping him and others were joining in as well.
“I’m only 5ft 6ins. But I fought like a tiger for survival,” said Adair.
“I was wearing a hand-made gold chain around my neck which had been given to me by one of the UFF lads and I treasured it. I did everything to protect it.
“With the attackers chasing me, I ran towards the gate and I shouted ‘Help me! Help me!’ but no one was interested. I remember thinking, ‘Some of these people must be Prods, but they still wouldn’t help me.’
“All the time they were hitting me I could hear Gina squealing. She was doing her best to fight them off as well. But I knew some of my punches were having an impact and I soon realised my attackers were pulling back.
“I was determined I wasn’t going down and it was as if someone was watching over me from above,” said the former UFF boss.
As Adair neared the exit gate he approached a senior security man pleading for assistance, but he was in for a surprise.
“He was a well-known IRA man from the lower Ormeau Road and as soon as he recognised me, he just walked away.
“Outside a taxi had pulled up and we jumped in. They were all booting the car like mad.
“I asked the driver – who I later learned was a Catholic – to take me to the hospital, but then I thought if he takes me to the Royal, the IRA could come in and finish me off.
“I told him to take me to the Ulster in Dundonald, which I knew would be safe territory.
“I was rushed in and doctors removed the bullet. It had penetrated my skin, but had flattened and failed to penetrate my skull.
“I had survived another attempt on my life, but the cops were determined to let me know the IRA had nothing to do with it.”
It later transpired drugs dealer Ed McCoy had smuggled a minute Derringer pistol into the UB40 concert for his own protection against the IRA who were using the cover name Direct Action Against Drugs to kill drug dealers.
Prior to the concert McCoy and a close friend had taken cocaine and, full of bravado, they decided to shoot Adair after spotting him in the crowd. But a damp .22 bullet resulted in the weapon failing to discharge properly.
On Sunday May 28, 2000, McCoy was enjoying an evening drink in a pub in Dunmurry when two gunmen approached shot him in the head and body. The 28-year-old father of one died in hospital the following day.
Just weeks before, McCoy’s accomplice in the Adair attack – a man who lived close to him in Andersonstown – took his own life.
UB40 hadn’t a clue Adair had been shot in front of them. The band’s drummer Jimmy Brown recently revealed it was only after they stepped off the stage they discovered what had happened.
“We saw a kind of disturbance, but didn’t realise someone had actually been shot. It was only after we had finished we were told it was Johnny Adair,” he said.
The day after the attack, Johnny and Gina Adair called at Donegall Pass RUC Station to make a statement. It was the seventh attempt on his life.
Detective inspector John Kelso recalled: “Johnny was sitting with a big bandage around his head. I looked over at him and said, ‘It’s hard to kill a bad thing, Johnny’. He just laughed.”
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