Leading loyalist whose pal was killed on Larne bonfire says UDA are ‘drug dealing thugs’

Leading loyalist whose pal was killed on Larne bonfire says UDA are ‘drug dealing thugs’

Window cleaner John Steele fell 50 feet to his death after he was struck on the head by a pallet falling from a bonfire he had helped build.

Daniel Crawford recently quit his home in Larne to build a new life for his family in England.

Until he upped sticks and left two weeks ago, the 31-year-old father of two was known to have close links to loyalist groups.

Daniel is still extremely well-known on the town’s Craigyhill and Antiville estates, where he was born and raised.

But speaking to the Sunday World yesterday, Daniel said he was so sickened by the tragic death of his life-long friend John Steele last July that he decided to turn his back on his native town for good.

“I was there the night John died. I didn’t actually see him fall, but I saw what happened afterwards. John’s death was the final straw for me,” he said.

“No doubt they’ll be saying it was me who was speaking to the press last summer – but anyone who knows me knows that is nonsense.

“One thing is right though – the Sunday Worldarticles about John Steele and the Larne bonfires last summer were spot on.”

Window cleaner John fell 50 feet to his death after he was struck on the head by a pallet falling from a bonfire he had helped build.

The huge pyre on the town’s Antiville estate was pulled down days after the tragedy which ripped the heart out of the close-knit community in the seaside town.

Last July after a visit to the Craigyhill and Antiville estates, the Sunday World revealed how youngsters were forced to help build huge towering inferno bonfires or face a beating.

And we also revealed how boys on the estates were forced to chip in £25 per head to buy pallets and then an additional £20 each for the hire of a crane.

We learned that father-of two John died when he fell 50ft after he was struck on the head by a flying pallet which had been accidentally dropped from above.

Up until that point, details of John’s death had remained a closely guarded secret, known only to UDA members.

Daniel Crawford said he remained a committed loyalist, but he became completely sickened by what the UDA did to the Co Antrim town he loved.

“I loved growing up in Larne and I loved the loyalist people who lived in Antiville and Craigyhill.

“As youngsters, we couldn’t wait until it was time to collect wood for the bonfire. It was the same every summer. My parents used to threaten me: ‘You better eat your dinner or you won’t be going to the bonfire.’

“To tell you the truth, the bonfire was the most important thing in our lives. The community spirit in the town at that time was fantastic.

“But I became sickened by what happened in Larne. Why did we have to have the biggest bonfire in the world? It’s a lot safer for the community if it’s a small one.

“Around three years ago, I began questioning what it was all about. I came to realise the SEA UDA had taken over the bonfire culture for its own ends.

“If they own the bonfire, then they own the community. And when they own the community, they control the sale of drugs. That’s what the bonfire became. It was just part of the drugs business.

“It dawed on me that my kids deserved better. I mentioned to my wife that I wanted out and she agreed. It’s the best decision we ever made.

“Our boys are settled into a new school and they are very happy. The transformation in us a family is fantastic. The stress of living in Larne became too much.

“I lived there for 31 years since I was born. And the people living there are the most decent people I know. But the paramilitaries ruined the area and it won’t change until they’re gone,” he insisted.

The Larne man maintained he was still deeply committed to the loyalist cause, but he felt there was no need for loyalist paramilitary groups any more.

“The Troubles are over – and they’re not coming back,” he said.

“I mean it’s not as if a united Ireland is around the corner or anything like that. I’m still a loyalist and I do more for Northern Ireland over here than any of them do back home.”

Daniel maintained that Larne was in danger of becoming a drug-dependent town unless action was taken soon. And he was highly critical of police procedures aimed at tackling the growing drugs problem in the town.

“If the police were serious, they could sort out Larne in a year. They must know who, what and where the drugs are coming into Larne.

“The people are sick and tired of the drugs and they deserve a lot better,” said Daniel.

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