'Spice Boy' killed before he could grass on UDA rivals

  • 5 October 2005
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The murder of Jim Gray was part of the internal power struggle within the UDA, and not connected to the ongoing UDA/LVF feud

 The murder of former Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leader Jim Gray at his home in Belfast on Tuesday night opens up the potential for further loyalist violence in Northern Ireland.
Gray, 47, was shot dead by two gunmen at his home on the Clarawood Estate on the night of Tuesday 4 October, just weeks after being released on bail on money-laundering charges.
Rivals in the UDA feared he would give evidence against them, and this was a factor in his murder, said a senior UDA source.
Jim Gray is the most high-profile loyalist to have been killed in recent years.
Until March 2005, he was the UDA's east Belfast “commander”, a position he used to amass a personal fortune through drug dealing and extortion rackets.
In March, he was expelled from the UDA because of concerns that his personal power base and criminal empire was a threat to the stability of the UDA.
In April, Gray was arrested by police in Banbridge, Co Down, as he tried to leave the country with a large sum of cash, and charged with money-laundering offences.
The charges led to a major money-laundering investigation which involved searches of offices belonging to solicitors, estate agents and accountants. The investigation revealed the extent of Gray's criminal empire.
Since then the UDA suspected Gray would cut a deal with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) which would see him providing testimony against other senior loyalists in return for a lighter prison sentence.
That fear was heightened by the activities and increasing success of the Assets Recovery Agency in recent months, which investigates criminal activity and recommend prosecutions.
According to a senior UDA source this was a factor in Gray's murder.
“People were wondering what he was going to do next. He had a reputation for being ruthless and no one doubted that he would put other people on the firing line if it meant he could cut a few years of any sentence he got,” said the UDA figure.
However, through criminal dealings and involvement in previous loyalist feuds Gray had created a myriad of enemies within loyalism who had personal scores to settle.
His murder has the potential to unleash personal power battles within the UDA, an inherently unstable organisation whose ceasefire status was only restored last year.
In recent months the UDA has been angered by the activities of its north Belfast leader Andre Shoukri, who is regarded as a leader in the mould of Gray.
Any move against Shoukri would almost certainly result in a vicious feud between the faction loyal to Shoukri and the mainstream UDA.
Northern Ireland's politicians have condemned the murder, with some questioning the wisdom of releasing Gray on bail, especially with the condition that he live in the loyalist Clarawood Estate, home to the enemies of a once-powerful, but now isolated, UDA leader.
Gray was the most flamboyant UDA leader in recent times. His peroxide blonde hair, garish clothing and penchant for the high life earned him the nickname Doris Day, and he became an embarrassment to the UDA leadership.
He attended UDA meetings with Northern Ireland Office ministers to discuss the peace process, but he was uninterested in politics.
When Gray was deposed in March the coterie of loyalists who surrounded him, nicknamed the “Spice Boys”, quickly went to ground.
The UDA tried to reassert control over its strongholds in east Belfast by ensuring no single figure could ever amass the fortune or power of Gray.
Tuesday's shooting is the continuation of that power struggle but it is unlikely to be the end of it.