‘The idea was to get rid of Jackie McDonald and take over the areas under his control’
We have been told Christie conspired with a professional assassin from Eastern Europe to take out McDonald because of the UDA chief’s anti-drugs stance.
It is believed Russian wholesale suppliers, who at the time were delivering vast quantities of drugs into Belfast, were apparently angered by the UDA leader’s repeated attacks on loyalists dealing in drugs.
“You can’t be a loyalist and a drugs dealer,” McDonald had told supporters at a Remembrance Day parade.
But once Christie agreed to supply back-up, a murder plot was hatched to take out McDonald. It is understood Christie – who was once a member of the Continuity IRA – offered to provide transport and other logistical aid to allow a professional Russian hitman to carry out the killing and quickly disappear again down south.
“The idea was to get rid of Jackie McDonald and take over the areas under his control,” said our source.
But the blueprint for murder on the streets of south Belfast was scrapped after a UVF man stepped in, telling Christie: “If this goes ahead, the police will be down on top of everyone like a ton of bricks.”
Our source added: “It was called off because it would attract heat from the police 24 hours a day.”
Yesterday, Jackie McDonald told the Sunday Worldhe was unaware of a Russian Mafia plan to kill him.
But he repeated his belief that drugs dealers are bringing death and destruction to communities in Northern Ireland.
“We see the result of drugs every single day now,” he said.
A 44-year-old father of three, Liam Christie was found dead in a bedroom of his house at Craighill on Antrim’s Ballycraigy estate on Thursday.
It is believed he was shot around 2am when neighbours heard shots, although his body wasn’t discovered until 9am.
Relatives of the dead man later claimed Christie’s body had been badly mutilated before he was shot three or four times, although this is still unconfirmed.
Christie was originally from Alliance Avenue in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, but he had been living in Antrim for a number of years.
It is known that the north Belfast man built up a major drugs empire in the town where he controlled a number of so-called ‘grow houses’. And he was also well known as a major supplier of drugs at open-air events in Belfast.
“Liam Christie controlled a small army of drugs dealers who worked at the big music concerts,” said one of our sources.
Crime sources say that despite being a Catholic, Christie survived in the staunchly Protestant area because he operated with the blessing of a well-known drug dealers in Co Antrim.
They are known to have a close connection to the Loyalist Volunteer Force, which broke away from the UVF more than 25 years ago.
Sources close to Christie say he had run up huge debts with one of the Antrim-based dealers who allowed him to operate from Ballycraigy.
“It looks as though Liam had a huge bill and couldn’t pay his debts. These people don’t mess about. You either pay your bill or you suffer.”
He added: “The nature of the murder suggests it was a warning to others not to try the same thing.”
At a press conference on Friday, Detective Inspector Rachel Wilson declined to speculate on a motive for Christie’s murder.
“At this stage of the investigation, I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment any further,” said the detective.
The PSNI officer explained that Christie had only moved into the terrace house at Craighill a matter of weeks ago.
But she insisted police were keeping an open mind on the motive. And the police also said they wouldn’t be commenting on whether there was any paramilitary involvement in the killing.
Det Insp Wilson said: “This was a brutal killing and I’m appealing for information to help bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice.
“I would appeal to anyone with information – no matter how insignificant they think it might me – to bring it to the police by either calling 101 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
A police presence remained at the crime scene throughout yesterday as officers continued to search for forensic evidence.
A green steel door on the property – which opened outwards as a security precaution – remained closed.
And a single bunch of flowers was tied to a gatepost and Liam Christie’s family car remained in the driveway behind the police security cordon.