Read Gangster Online

Authors: John Mooney

Tags: #prison, #Ireland, #Dublin, #IRA, #murder, #gang crime, #court, #john gilligan, #drugs, #assassination, #Gilligan, #John Traynor, #drug smuggling, #Guerin, #UDA, #organised crime, #best seller, #veronica guerin, #UVF, #Charlie Bowden

Gangster

Gangster

The Biography of International Drug Trafficker John Gilligan
John Mooney

Prologue

August 1996

TERMINAL ONE, HEATHROW AIRPORT, LONDON

He smiled confidently, exchanging courtesies with his fellow travellers as they filtered into the airport’s arrivals lounge. Wearing a blue sports jacket, shirt, pressed trousers and standing just over five feet tall, he looked an unlikely criminal.

‘You must be the journalist. Pleased to meet you,’ he said in a flat Dublin accent, whilst shaking my hand.

‘How did you know what I looked like?’

‘Oh, I just saw you there and you fitted the bill. Come with me, I don’t like talking in public places.’ He pointed to a restaurant which overlooked the airport lobby and signalled to follow.

‘This place is good. There’s only one way in and out. Let’s get something to eat,’ he said, whilst ushering me towards a table situated in a dimly lit corner, not easily visible from the doorway.

The restaurant was full of businessmen from the four corners of the globe, but Asians were the main clientele, all dining on roast duck, the speciality of the day. A waiter approached with two menus tucked under his arm.

‘Would you like to order a drink while you wait, sir?’

‘No, two hamburgers with large fries and 7-Up. That okay with you, John?’ He eased back into his chair.

‘Let me tell you this. Anyone can get anyone killed if they have the money. You don’t have to be a criminal. I could have ordered Guerin’s death but I didn’t. I had no hand, act or part in it. That’s the truth.’

His words sounded rehearsed, but were considered and spoken with authority.

He leaned forward again, making a point of not breaking eye contact. ‘I have been dragged into this because I threatened her before she died. If I was going to kill her I would hardly have advertised it by threatening her. I mean, that’s not the way things are done.’

He was interrupted in mid-speech by the sound of my cellular phone ringing. The caller was a republican contact who had helped arrange the meeting.

‘Is he with you now?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you all right? Is he giving you any trouble?’

‘No, he has just arrived.’

‘Put him on to me.’

‘It’s for you.’

He looked across the table with a blank expression on his face, took the phone and held it cautiously to his ear and listened attentively.

‘He wants to talk to you now,’ he said returning the phone.

‘I’m going to ring you on the hour, every hour, to make sure you’re okay.’

The line went dead.

‘You won’t have any problems with me; I’ve no problem with you. Ask me what you like, I’ll answer any question,’ he said confidently.

‘Did you threaten to kill, kidnap and rape her six-year-old?’

‘Yes I did. But it isn’t the way you make it out. I knew she didn’t fear for herself so I used a tactic, which we used on screws [prison officers] who caused us problems. If a screw’s house got turned over, he would get sympathy from his neighbours. They would say, “Look at the poor prison officer, he’s only doing his job keeping criminals locked up.” So somebody, I don’t remember who, came up with the idea that you worked the next-door neighbour over, so nobody talked to the screw or his family in case they were next. Instead they blamed the attacks on the screws. It was only a tactic I used to try to frighten her off, that’s all.’

Although I could not have imagined it at the time, I was sitting with one of the most dangerous criminals ever to emerge from the Irish underworld. In the hours of conversation that followed, he spoke about drug dealing, hijackings, gunrunning and racketeering, his background and his separation from his wife. Crime, he proclaimed with a degree of smugness, had earned him close to IR£15 million.

But it was the public’s reaction to the cold-blooded murder of a crime reporter on the streets of Dublin, the Irish capital, six weeks earlier that preoccupied him. He kept returning to the subject of the shooting, saying he wasn’t responsible, that the media was unfairly targeting him by labelling him chief suspect. The assignment of blame and guilt was passed to others.

‘I’m not as black as they portray me although I am a criminal. This is hype by journalists. That’s all,’ he proclaimed.

When the interview concluded hours later, I asked if he had any objections to his photograph being taken. He looked nervous.

‘Can you get one off another newspaper?’ he asked.

‘No, it’s better that I take one now.’

After much persuasion, he agreed and I pointed the camera in his direction. As I focused the lens, I noticed he was staring at the ground.

‘Could you look directly at the camera?’

‘No, I’m fine like this,’ he said, looking uncomfortable and agitated.

I took two photographs before he stood up and said, ‘That’s enough.’

The camera annoyed him, and he found this difficult to hide.

‘You don’t like your picture being taken?’

‘No, it doesn’t bother me too much. Did you see the pictures of me in the papers last week, the one with me wearing the sunglasses?’ he enquired, smiling once again.

‘Yes. Yes, I did.’

‘What did you think of them?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Do you think I looked good? Everyone said I looked cool. Some of the fellas from home even rang. They thought I looked cool, like a guy from the Mafia, a real gangster.’

Chapter 1

The Murder of Veronica Guerin

‘We know who killed her—and he’s untouchable.’

HEADLINE FROM THE
IRISH INDEPENDENT

The assassin held the .357 Magnum revolver with both hands and fired five shots at point-blank range through the side window of the car. He shot once, then twice, before discharging another three shots into his victim. The sound of the gunfire reverberated in the hearts of those watching the nightmare unfold. The victim had seen her killer stride towards her car, but had no time to escape. Overcome by fear, she raised her right arm to shield herself from the bullets, which ripped through her arms, torso and upper body, killing her within a matter of seconds. It was 12.54 p.m. on Wednesday, 26 June 1996.

The victim was Veronica Guerin, a crime reporter for the
Sunday Independent
newspaper. She was 37 years of age, a wife and mother. The scene of her slaying was the traffic intersection which adjoins the Boot Road to the Naas Road in Clondalkin, a suburb that lies south-west of Dublin city. The main road is known as the N7.

She was travelling to her office in the city centre from the town of Naas in County Kildare, where she had appeared earlier in court on a minor speeding charge. A red light temporarily halted her journey. When she stopped, a powerful motorcycle carrying two men pulled up alongside her red Opel Calibra sports car. The rider and the pillion passenger both wore dark clothes and full-size helmets, which concealed their identities. Neither she nor the other drivers stopped in the traffic took much notice of them. That was until the pillion passenger dismounted.

It wasn’t until the last moment that she noticed her killer. Guerin was forever on the phone and just before her killer struck, she was leaving a message on a friend’s answering machine. The call was to say she had not been banned from driving, and the answering machine recorded her last words. ‘I did very well. Aah, fined a maximum of IR£150 . . .’

Her voice was interrupted in mid-sentence by the sound of a crack, followed by the sound of a mobile phone key being pressed, and then a second crack, the sound of gunfire. Many people witnessed her death.

Michael Kirby was giving a driving lesson from the passenger seat of a lorry parked in the traffic. ‘I heard what sounded like a crack, followed by a few more. The driver’s window was open. I looked out and saw what was taking place. This guy was shooting somebody in the car. I saw the gun. It was like something you would see on TV,’ he remembered.

Brian McNamara and his wife were also present; sitting parked in the traffic, he heard what he thought was a car backfire. When he looked to his right, he saw a gunman shooting into a red car, Guerin’s car. McNamara later recalled how the gunman ‘seemed to lean over with the gun for the last few shots’ before stuffing the weapon into his jacket, jumping back on the motorcycle and speeding off. McNamara ran to Guerin’s car to see what had happened. When he looked in, he saw a woman lying slumped over the passenger seat. She was covered in fragments of smashed glass and blood. McNamara ran back to his wife and told her someone had been shot.

When the traffic lights turned green, Brenda Grogan stepped out of her car to see what was causing the delay. Grogan was on her way to a nearby hospital where she worked as a nurse. As she approached the victim’s car, she saw a woman slumped over the passenger seat and went to administer first aid.

‘I felt for a pulse on her neck. We were joined by another nurse. We moved her to try to clear her airway. We put her upright in the driver’s seat,’ she said.

The other nurse was Michelle Wall. She too tried to administer first aid. As Wall felt for a pulse, she noticed a small, black hole at the back of the victim’s shoulder and another hole in her blouse. She moved the car seat down to alleviate the pain, but it was too late.

Guerin was dead.

A combination of shock and haemorrhage caused by multiple bullet wounds, which lacerated her lungs and the artery supplying blood to her right arm, caused her death. A 999 call was made to the emergency services, which in turn relayed the call to Garda headquarters. It was a matter of minutes before armed gardaí arrived on the scene and Clondalkin was swamped with patrol cars, but there was no sign of the assassins. They had long gone, vanishing into the afternoon traffic. All that was left was bullet-shattered glass, blood and the victim’s body.

Passers-by screamed, some went into a state of shock and panic. Witnesses pointed arriving gardaí in the direction of Tallaght, saying the assassins had headed towards the sprawling housing scheme that lies at the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. Police detectives arrived and took details and descriptions of the killers from anaesthetised bystanders. The descriptions of the killers were sketchy but left no doubt that the shooting was a professional hit. The crime scene was sealed off immediately and forensic experts wearing white jump suits arrived and began an inch-by-inch examination of the scene. They painstakingly searched for the usual clues: blood, hair, spent bullet cases, torn fabric—anything. They erected a steel frame around the journalist’s car, which contained her body, covered only by a crimson blanket. People gathered and stared in disbelief at the macabre sight.

Pat Byrne, a deputy garda commissioner, arrived at the scene. He had known the victim. ‘I spoke to the detectives. I was in shock, I couldn’t believe what had happened. And I couldn’t look at the body,’ he said. ‘I was too afraid.’

From his office window in Scoil Mhuire National School, Father Heber McMahon saw the commotion and wondered what it was about. He walked over to the carnage and was told the news. Years earlier, in 1985, the priest had officiated at Guerin’s wedding. ‘It says an awful lot about freedom of speech, doesn’t it? I just feel so awful for her family.’

Stricken by a deep sense of sadness, he told reporters at the scene that he had received a Christmas card from Guerin. He had written back to her, berating her for writing articles about Bishop Casey’s passionate love affair. ‘I said if she was looking for a third clerical candidate, she should come out here to Clondalkin.’

News of the murder soon reached the news desks of Irish television and radio stations. Journalists in the
Sunday Independent
broke down in tears, mourning the loss of their colleague. An unofficial news blackout on the killing was put in place. Ending that day’s lunchtime news programme on RTÉ, presenter Seán O’Rourke announced that a woman had been shot but that he could not disclose the identity of the victim.

And with good reason: Guerin’s husband, Graham Turley, her six-year-old son Cathal and the couple’s family were unaware of her murder.

The first family member to learn about the killing was Turley. He was visiting a construction site in Malahide on Dublin’s northside when his wife was gunned down. The gardaí had called his office and were told of his whereabouts. Detective Inspector Cathal Cryan of Coolock Garda Station raced to the site. He knew the couple personally and made the initial approach to Turley in the most humane way possible. Speaking on the Irish chat show,
The Late Late Show
, Turley later recalled what happened.

‘I was in Malahide, and a guard, a friend of ours came into the site and I sort of said, “How are you doing, Cathal?” And he said, “Not good.” And I said, “What’s wrong, sure it was only IR£150.”’

He was referring to the fine imposed on his wife for speeding. ‘“Oh no, it’s a lot worse, there’s after being another shooting.” And I said, “I don’t believe you,” and he said, “It’s not good, it’s not good at all. I think we should go to Coolock Garda Station.” So I got into my car. I wouldn’t go with him because I wanted to go and see her, to see that she was all right. And I drove to Coolock Garda Station. And I was there for about 10 or 15 minutes and then they came in and told me Veronica was dead.’

Nora Owen, the Minister for Justice, was on the far side of the Atlantic when the journalist was gunned down. She was in New York attending a United Nations conference on international drug trafficking. She was standing in the lobby of Fitzpatrick’s Hotel when her private secretary John O’Dwyer pulled her aside. He said, ‘I need to speak to you privately, very quickly.’ She knew there was something wrong.

The two stepped into a lift and O’Dwyer pressed the button for the sixth floor. The doors closed and he told her what had happened. Dumbstruck, because the two women had been friends, Owen stepped out of the lift and walked to her room. ‘To be honest I went into the room on my own and just cried, I was absolutely in bits about it and I then rang home. I was told that she’d been shot at traffic lights. I knew immediately I had to go back.’ She called Turley. ‘He was absolutely devastated, and he was only after hearing the details of it. I just felt the blood, and every bit of my life, draining out of me with the horror of what had happened.’

O’Dwyer arranged for Owen to fly home immediately, but before she could leave she had to deliver a speech on organised crime to the United Nations as President of the Council of Ministers of Europe. She arrived at the United Nations building two hours later and delivered a highly charged address. Her voice trembling, she went off script and spoke about Guerin. ‘I said I had just received information that a young woman journalist had been shot dead by a criminal gang. I brought it right home. Afterwards I was surrounded by ministers from dozens of countries. I was in a terrible state of shock, what they were saying was going in one ear and out the other.’

Guerin’s body was still in her car at the time because the State Pathologist, Doctor John F. Harbison, was attending an inquest. It could not be moved until he arrived and carried out an examination. This happened at 5.30 p.m. Guerin’s remains were removed to James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, at 6 p.m. Accompanied by his friend, Father Declan Doyle, Turley travelled to his wife’s parental home where he sat with Bernadette Guerin, the victim’s mother, and her family. They consoled each other before Turley left for Blanchardstown to formally identify his wife’s remains later that evening. Father Doyle and a brother-in-law went with him.

‘Until ten o’clock that night, in the morgue in Blanchardstown hospital, when I saw Veronica, or I had to identify her for the first time, it was the first time that it started sinking in. That it was Veronica there. I was hoping that somebody had taken her car, or something different. Because you can’t kill Veronica. That was my policy, she was too hard to kill. And she never will be dead as far as I’m concerned.’

He travelled to his own mother’s home where his son was staying. The child was asleep, so he was left to rest for the night and was told the next morning as he played with Lego. Father Doyle was present when Turley broke the news to his son. Turley later recounted the story to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ radio.

‘I sat down on the chair and said, “How are things?” and he said, “Grand, Dad.” He had been kept away from the television and the papers and nobody had said anything to him. So I said, “Cathal, do you remember the last time Mum was shot? Well it’s happened again.”

‘And he said, “Yeah? Where was she shot this time?”

‘And I said, “Shot in the heart.” And he came over and sat on my knee and he comforted me. And Declan said to him, “Cathal, can you make a courthouse?” And Cathal said, “Yeah.” And we made the courthouse in Naas, and we made two cars and a motorbike, and then he asked, “Who was on the motorbike?” And I said, “Well, there were two men on the motorbike, and they seem to have been wearing black helmets. And they pulled up, alongside Mum, and they shot into the car and hit Mum.”

‘“Where did they hit Mum?”

‘And I said, “They hit Mum three times around the heart, and they hit her in the neck.”

‘“Is Mum coming home?”

‘And I said, “No, she’s not coming home, but she’s going to be here minding us, because remember we talked about this before.”

‘“Oh I got it,” he says. “She’s with God now, and she’ll be looking down on me and everything I do from now on.”

‘And it’s been like that ever since, that everything we discuss, Mum has always been there and always will be. And we left there, my mother’s house, and we went to Stafford’s funeral home, and Veronica was there, and we had a chat, a cuddle and a laugh, like we always did, the three of us together. And we talked, and Cathal was saying, “Mum, you’re very cold,” and things like this. And then we left.’

The assassination of the journalist was formally announced at a packed press conference in Lucan Garda Station on the outskirts of the capital at 4.30 p.m. During the press conference, Superintendent Brian O’Higgins of the Garda Press Office said he had known the victim extremely well and that this made it all the more difficult. He described her assassination as ‘cold, callous and planned’.

News of the murder prompted a wave of revulsion and public outrage. Among the many atrocities that had convulsed Ireland, this murder stood out as by far the most despicable and cruel. Ireland was in the grip of organised crime that manifested itself in the cold-blooded murder of a journalist. The idea that gangland killings were never solved prospered in the underworld and the notion that the drug barons were untouchable was injected into the national consciousness.

In the Dáil, the Taoiseach, John Bruton, described the killing as sinister to the extreme. ‘Someone, somewhere decided to take her life and almost certainly did so to prevent information coming into the public arena.’ He went on to describe Guerin as a ‘particularly gifted and professional investigative journalist’ who had written about the unacceptable face of life. ‘She did so with care and with compassion. In doing so, she made an important contribution to the public life of this country. Without the work which she did, much of the recent public debate on crime would not have been as informed as it was.’

The Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, Dick Spring, stood up and told the hushed Dáil chambers that her murder was linked to her work. ‘That she should be shot down in this fashion is an attack on all of us and on the values that democracy and democratic politics are based on. It is an outrageous attack on the freedom of the press and the invaluable work that journalists do.’

The leader of Fianna Fáil, Bertie Ahern, expressed his shock, saying he hoped no effort would be spared to find her killers. But it was Mary Harney of the Progressive Democrats Party who made the most poignant tribute: ‘The greatest liberty we have is the liberty of free expression and the greatest guarantee we have of that liberty is a free press. Veronica Guerin died because she fearlessly pursued the truth. She was no ordinary journalist. She was a woman apart. Today the criminal underworld decided that in order that they could continue with their activities, she had to be murdered. In a matter of seconds, that enormous talent was taken away, and she had no chance.’

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