Surveillance on crime gang was stood down in hours before terrifying raid
An undercover surveillance operation on members of a violent Dublin crime gang was stood down three hours before they went on to stage the terrifying home invasion of the Corcoran family in Co Tipperary.
The Irish Independent has learned that a team of officers from the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) had been secretly tailing the seven-member mob after gardaí received intelligence that they were planning a robbery on the night of November 21-22, 2013.
The NSU was backed up by a squad of heavily armed members of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), who had been tasked with intercepting and arresting the dangerous thugs.
However, informed sources have revealed the operation was called off around midnight in the belief that the gang, which had been watched by gardaí for weeks, was not going to go ahead with a robbery that night.
"The intelligence was that this particular gang was planning to carry out a robbery somewhere in the country around this time but it was not known where or when it would take place," a source confirmed last night. "This particular crew had been under surveillance on and off for weeks before this incident and some of them had been involved in a chase in a stolen car with false plates just two weeks earlier.
"On the night in question, someone decided that it was unlikely that the gang was going to actually do anything on that night and it was called off," the source added.
However, a Garda spokesman said an operation was not stood down.
But it is now understood that members of the gang left Dublin in a number of cars sometime after the surveillance unit had been stood down.
When one of the cars broke down near the toll plaza on the M8 motorway in Co Laois, the gang stole another in Co Kilkenny.
At 3.15 on the morning of November 21, Mark and Emma Corcoran and their three daughters - aged 8, 6 and 2 - were awoken when the thugs first unsuccessfully tried to break down the front door of their bungalow at Burnchurch, outside Killenaule.
The dangerous robbers, all of whom are in their 20s and from north Dublin, then gained access to the house when they smashed in the front window.
During the family's ordeal Mr Corcoran was tied up, beaten and threatened by the thugs while his two older daughters watched in horror and thought that their father had been killed.
Mrs Corcoran managed to make a 999 call and hid the phone under the bed, before the armed gang members dragged her to another room where they threatened: "We'll kill your f***ing kids."
The Irish Independent also understands that the seven thugs agreed to plead guilty on the condition that the State did not play the recordings from the 999 calls, which sources said were "harrowing" to listen to.
Detective Sergeant James White, who led the investigation into the horrific crime, told Clonmel Circuit Criminal Court that the most audible part of the recordings was the terrified, piercing screams of the children.
A source said: "They (the accused) were afraid of what might happen to them if the judge or a jury heard the tapes… they agreed to plead guilty if the tapes weren't played in court."
On Thursday, the gang members - brothers John and Patrick Joyce, Dean Byrne, Patrick Gately, Thomas Flynn, Michael McDonagh and Donal O'Hara - who all pleaded guilty, were jailed for a total of 105 years between them, of which 33 years were suspended.
Their individual sentences range from five to 16 after the suspended parts of their sentences are taken in to account.
In handing down the sentences, Judge Tom Teehan said the level of gratuitous violence used on the Corcorans was terrifying and he also had to be a voice for the children.
Speaking directly to the couple, who are still deeply traumatised, as are their children, the judge said he could not believe the pain and suffering they had been forced to endure. He said that it was an "evil, well planned crime" that caused "catastrophic changes" to the lives of the family. No human being, of any age, should ever have to witness such a violent scene, and most especially in their own home, he added.