Officers pursuing leads involving gang crime, theft and drug dealing
GARDAI investigating the murder of the former senior detective who was found shot dead at his Co Cavan home on Friday are focusing inquiries on his links to a gang suspected of involvement in stealing machinery and drug dealing.
John Kerins, 49, was shot in the head and chest while lying on the sofa of his two-storey home on the outskirts of Bailieborough, the TV remote control by his side and front door unlocked.
A post-mortem concluded at 12.45pm yesterday confirmed that Kerins died of gunshot wounds and the house was still being scoured last night by a forensic team. Initial reports suggested that Kerins was killed by someone he knew well enough to bring into his home.
As detectives began investigating the possible motives behind his murder, they found no shortage of leads.
According to his former colleagues, Kerins, in his time, has associated with dissident republicans, drug dealers and criminals, a fact which kept him on the garda radar long after he left the Force.
He was awaiting trial on three charges of possession of stolen property and had been questioned about the disappearance of his neighbour, Gerard Daly, who gardai believe was murdered. According to one source, Shirley Quinn, his estranged wife, was so fearful of Kerins that gardai organised protection for her earlier this year.
Kerins, who once served in the Central Detective Unit at Harcourt Street, was on sick leave from the force in 2002 and was finally discharged on medical grounds in 2010. Although he was never disciplined, he left the force under the shadow of his former colleagues' suspicions.
Kerins joined the Garda Siochana in 1983. Originally from Trim, Co Meath, he was stationed in Dublin, first in Crumlin and later at the fraud squad. As a rookie, Kerins worked initially as a motorcycle garda and later moved to the Central Detective Unit, which was regarded as significant move up the ranks.
Later, his associations with criminals raised a concern among some of his colleagues. During the 1990s, he made contact with a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), who was suspected of murdering an off-duty British soldier in the early 1990s. The INLA man had moved to Dublin, which is where he met Kerins.
When Kerins's association with the terrorist became known, he apparently persuaded some gardai that he was operating him as an informant.
However, others suspected that he was involved in criminality in Dublin with the INLA. The organisation was involved in drugs, extortion and prostitution at the time.
Despite his colleagues' suspicions, Kerins remained in the force. There was never any proof to substantiate their concerns. He left Dublin and was posted back to Meath, first to Kells and then Ardee.
The first time he was investigated for anything serious was in 2002. He was out on duty in the Kells area when a garda torch was thrown at a car that drove at speed through a garda checkpoint.
One of the occupants of the car, an 18-year-old called David Herbert, was struck on the side of the head by the torch and later died. An inquest into the teenager's death heard how the torch came through the window of the car, hitting David.
Afterwards, he complained about the pain in his head. The next morning, his parents found him dead in his bed. When gardai recovered the car, the torch was on the passenger seat. Kerins told the inquest: "My torch left my right hand. I didn't know it." Although he was investigated, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that Kerins should not be charged.
Two years later, in September 2004, Kerins -- now attached to Ardee -- was injured while on duty attending to a car accident. He was sitting in a garda car when another car crashed into his. Kerins suffered a back injury and was out of work for several months.
He returned to work but reported that his back was still giving trouble and in 2005 he went out on long-term sick leave. He was formally discharged from the force five years later in 2010 on medical grounds. According to one source, he received around €200,000 compensation.
One former colleague described Kerins as likeable in many ways, and someone who had the ability to be a good detective. One of his big flaws was that he couldn't pass up an opportunity to make money if it came his way.
"He organised security for sites in the area. It was in his spare time, when he was attached to Kells. But he shouldn't have been doing it," said the source.
Kerins had lived for several years in a neat new-build home in Cornaveagh, near Bailieborough. In recent years, he lived there alone, having separated from his wife, with whom he had three children.
Once out of the force, his links to criminality apparently deepened.
Kerins was close to dissident republicans, who were involved in smuggling, organised the robbery and export of building and farm machinery. His name cropped up at a case conference about stolen goods as recently as last month.
The gang was also involved in cannabis grow houses, including one which was found not far from Kerins's home last May buried in a lorry container. The plants would have produced €100,000 worth of drugs -- the discovery was a significant loss to the gang. Officers found no evidence to link Kerins to any of it.
'Intelligence suggested he might know more than he was letting on'
But he was questioned about another local mystery. Kerins's neighbour and good friend was Gerard Daly, a Dubliner who had moved to Cornaveagh from Tallaght.
Dublin gardai knew Daly because of his associations with certain criminals and dissident republicans.
And according to locals, Daly became a close friend of Kerins after moving to Bailieborough.
In June last year, Daly disappeared. Gardai established that Daly had clashed with a criminal gang before his death. They believed that Kerins knew what had happened to Daly. They came into intelligence which suggested that even if he wasn't directly involved, he might know more than he was letting on. Kerins was interviewed by detectives, along with several other people, but the investigation went nowhere.
Daly remains missing, feared murdered.
Despite his chequered career, Kerins was never charged with any offence until April this year. He was caught in Cork allegedly in possession of plant and farm machinery that had been stolen in Mallow.
Gardai stopped him on the South Ring Road in Togher. The equipment was worth an estimated €20,000. He was due in court later this year, not only for being in possession of stolen goods but also for trying to drive away in a car that didn't belong to him on the same date.
On Friday morning, Kerins was due to pick up his neighbour's children to bring them to school -- as he apparently did every morning. When he didn't show up, his neighbour became concerned.
Gardai arrived at his home at around 11am, and found the front door unlocked. There was no sign of a forced entry, or even a struggle. From the position of his body stretched out on the sofa, it seemed that he was stretched out, relaxed and watching television, when his murderer took a shotgun and blasted him several times in the head and chest.
Gardai are not short of leads to follow up.
One garda source who knew Kerins speculated: "He was obviously shot with a shot -gun. So it was not a guy hired to do it (the killing). I would suspect he was engaged with people in stealing machinery, and it's possible that John was not throwing over the funds to the others."
He could have been shot over the discovery of the cannabis grow houses.
He could have been shot over suspicions that he was an informer -- as some criminals would see it, once a garda, always a garda. Although as one source, said: "You can rest assured that is one thing John Kerins was not."
But one of the strongest lines of inquiry is that he was shot over his knowledge of what happened to Gerard Daly. Kerins, who was finally facing criminal charges, may have been prepared to turn State witness in return for a reduction of jail time.
Locals who talked anonymously to newspapers depicted Kerins as a decent sort with a community spirit. He was involved in the local group water scheme, apparently, and was always willing to help out.
To gardai, he was a gamekeeper turned poacher; a flawed detective who ultimately could not stay on the straight and narrow.
As one garda source described him: "He was a good detective. He knew what to do . . . but he would not be hiding behind the door if he got an opportunity."
Gardai in Bailieborough have appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious in the Cornaveagh area between 4pm on Thursday and 9am on Friday to come forward.