He thought he was invincible but slain drugs boss was marked man
Published 17/12/2006 | 00:11
MAEVE SHEEHAN THE grim sight was becoming all too familiar to detectives. Martin Hyland's body lay slumped beneath the covers on a bed in his niece's house in Finglas, west Dublin. His head was a messy pulp of blood, his eyes were disfigured, and his body pumped with bullets.
Downstairs in the hall lay the body of Anthony Campbell, an innocent apprentice plumber who got a bullet to the head because he was an unexpected witness to the gangland assassination. His father had got him a temporary job with a plumber to earn money for Christmas. The killers had waited for Hyland's niece to drop her children to school. They may have seen the older plumber leave the house to get supplies a few minutes later. Campbell, 20, may well have opened the door to them, thinking it was his boss returning. Gardai don't know whether he was shot immediately by the assassin or after the killer had finished with Hyland.
The murders bought to 63 the numbers of violent deaths in Ireland this year. But within 24 hours this toll had risen after a man was beaten and run over by a gang of rampaging car thieves who went on a crime spree in Co Louth and another gangland figure was assassinated in the Irish Financial Services Centre in Dublin.
After the events of last week, the perception of a capital city overrun by gun-toting drug dealers is hard to shift. Opposition parties have called for the resignation of the Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, and demanded that the Army be sent in.
There have been calls for the kind of clampdown on crime not seen since the murder of the Sunday Independent journalist, Veronica Guerin, 10 years ago. Even Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, joined in to condemn the gangsters who "feel that they have a right to callously disregard the dignity of human life, even ofinnocent bystanders, in order to foster their criminalinterests".
Last week, Noel Conroy, the Garda Commissioner, optimistically noted that eight out of this year's 23 gangland shootings have been solved. But privately gardai admit that such offences are notoriously difficult to prosecute. "The crimes are committed out in the open. There is very little chance of getting forensic evidence. There is no contact between the killer and the victim. They are able to drive away and destroy the car. And the fact that many of these crimes are not being prosecuted, they feel they are not going to be caught," said one senior officer this weekend.
So it was at Scribblestown Lane last Tuesday, when detectives saw another gangland boss slain. Another innocent victim gunned down in the cross-fire. There were no witnesses, no forensic evidence, and a get-away car burnt out nearby. Revenge shootings will almost certainly follow. And the suspect list remains so wide open that it lists everyone from a notorious republican hit man to dozens of disaffected henchmen.
The life and bloody death of Martin 'Marlo' Hyland is a cautionary tale of the growing incursion of gangland culture on ordinary Irish life. To official Ireland, he was a no-hoper, one of the long-term unemployed who pocketed his social welfare payments since 1993.
The dole was a front for his real role as protege of the notorious criminal, PJ Judge. Nicknamed 'the Psycho', Judge was then the dominant drugs trafficker in Finglas and
Ballymun until he was murdered - supposedly by the IRA - in 1996. Hyland stepped into his place. He began with cash-in-transit robberies and graduated to drug trafficking in the late Nineties.
He pooled the proceeds of his crimes with another north Dublin criminal and embarked on his first big drug trafficking operation, according to Garda sources. He nurtured contacts in Spain and Holland and travelled there frequently. He organised the shipments, paying in cash that he had smuggled out of Ireland. Guns were smuggled in with the drugs. Schooled by Judge, Hyland extractedrevenge by death.
Hyland's sister was strangled by her husband in 1985. Released from jail almost a decade later, the husband was gunned down in a drive-by shooting as he drove home from a soccer match. Hyland was the prime suspect.
He escaped serious convictions by keeping at one remove from the guns and drugs in which he dealt. A string of motoring offences were all gardai could pin on him. Like many criminals, he clung to his supposed 'good name', suing the Sunday World for a reputed ?90,000 after it described him as a gangster in 1997. The money and a subsequent Lotto win of ?250,000 gave him an opportunity to explain some of his wealth.
However, the Criminal Assets Bureau did manage to have his dole payments stopped by showing the courts that he had lied about his addresses.
But by 2004, he was one of Ireland's biggest traffickers of heroin and cocaine. According to Garda sources, he exchanged favours with powerful figures in the criminal and republican underworld to shore up his position in the volatile drugs trade.
"When somebody rings up and says can you get me a gun, he would organise it through his network. He would get the gun back to them. He would have been in a position to source firearms for other people to commit other crimes," said a Garda source.
Gardai had intelligence that he was palming off the local hard men of the IRA in Dublin. Although publicly professing to be on the side of drug-ravaged communities, in practice they took the shilling of this northside drugs lord. He was close to a former Dublin brigade leader of the IRA. Another associate was a Sinn Fein activist who was implicated in a ?2m tax fraud.
"He was paying them in terms of supplying money and cars to people in lieu of a blessing to operate in the area he was operating in. There is no doubt that there were three well-known subversives who he was close to. They were making money on the back of this guy who was selling drugs," said a Garda source. "They were allowing him to operate. And he had their blessing."
He also courted Patrick 'Dutchy' Holland, a one-time linchpin of John Gilligan's criminal empire and who was named as the gunman who murdered Veronica Guerin. Holland was released from prison in April after serving nine years for drugs offences. Hyland gave him refuge.
His most notorious pal, however, was Dessie O'Hare, the former INLA gun man jailed for kidnapping and torturing the dentist, John O'Grady. O'Hare was another criminal to benefit from Hyland's largesse. He was granted temporary release last April and was offered a bed by Martin Hyland in one of the many homes he used in Cabra and Finglas.
"He was not so much a bodyguard but Hyland thought it sent out a message to his enemies to be associating with O'Hare. By the time O'Hare got out of jail last April, Hyland was already under pressure and so he gave him money and shelter," said a Garda source.
In fact, Hyland's grip on power had been steadily weakening since November 2005, when the Justice Minister announced that he was setting up the Organised Crime Unit. The unit was dismissed by detractors as a 'desperate measure' to allay public alarm over a spate of 20 gangland shootings that year. Its force of 50 gardai were dispatched on a combination of high-profile patrols and covert operations targeting the biggest drug dealers in the capital.
The number one target was Martin Hyland. Within months, he was feeling the full effects of Operation Oak. Houses were searched. Guns were found. By the time of his death, the Garda National Drugs Unit had seized more than ?23m worth of cannabis, cocaine and heroin. A Criminal Assets Bureau investigation found ?150,000 in cash stashed in a garage belonging to an associate.
Martin Hyland's associates began falling like tenpins. They were stopped driving cars loaded with drugs, subjected to dawn raids on their homes and intercepted en route to robberies.
In all, more than 40 suspects were arrested in north and west Dublin. Twenty four were brought to court and charged. All but one were released on bail. According to Garda sources, Hyland's associates began to see Hyland as a tout, particularly as he had managed to evade arrest.
"What was happening was that Hyland saw himself as being invincible. As people saw that he could be caught, and that people working with him were being caught, he lost his grasp on the criminal enterprise that he was running," said one Garda source. "He was too hot. But he was still trying to stamp his authority and he wasn't afraid to make threats to people."
He shot two of his own drug dealers in the past two months. One was Paddy Harte, gunned down in May because he had supposedly branched out on his own, selling cannabis he bought from Hyland, and was becoming too successful. In August, gardai seized cocaine worth ?400,000 and guns in Meath, and a young runner for Hyland, Paul Reay, 26, was arrested. Reay was shot dead and his sister injured on his way to court last month.
In recent months, Hyland vainly tried to talk himself up by claiming a slice of the action. He linked himself to the death of Baiba Saulite, a young Latvian mother of two who was murdered in a suspected contract killing in Swords last month. Another man is the main suspect for commissioning the killing. But Hyland didn't deny rumours in the criminal underworld that he had provided the gun, the cars and possibly even the killer, according to a Garda source.
"He was floundering in his position and was very quick to claim association with different crimes and robberies. We know that actually he had nothing to do with them. He was trying to shore up the losses he was making, by claiming a piece of the action. He was trying to still say that he was the kingpin, even when he was losing it," said one Garda source.
In recent weeks, intelligence about threats on Hyland's life came in hard and fast from the gangsters who were being arrested and questioned at an unprecedented rate. Five days before Hyland's death, gardai called to warn him that his life was in danger. He was advised to increase his security and to vary his routine to put his enemies off the track. But Hyland was living on borrowed time.
There are no hard suspects for the murder, according to Garda sources, just a long list of his dubious friends and enemies. His own gang members wanted Hyland dead. As did two rival drugs gangs. The former IRA men he palmed off can't be ruled out but gardai say it's unlikely they were responsible for the murder.
Nor is Dessie O'Hare high on the list. Last week, the notorious criminal claimed to be in Lourdes helping the handicapped although gardai say he was in Ireland when Hyland was shot. He may not be a prime suspect but O'Hare's consorting with criminals could yet result in his return to prison for breaching the terms of his early release
In the fallout last week, the Justice Minister turned the focus on judges for releasing all but one of Hyland's gang on bail, accusing judges of being "soft". A Cabinet meeting will discuss the matter next Tuesday. And meanwhile, there are calls to use the Special Criminal Court to try gangland figures on the word of a senior Garda to circumvent witnesses being intimidated. Administrative Detention Orders, used in Israel and in Holland to put drug dealers behind bars without trial, have also been suggested.
The Garda Commissioner announced a beefed-up Organised Crime unit. Privately, several gardai believe that resources are being misplaced, preferring the old-fashioned policing theory that crime is prevented by gardai being on the ground rather than in specialist offices.
But it is not Hyland's murder that weighs so heavily on the political consciousness, however. Rather it is the brutal killing of Anthony Campbell who, like the young mothers, Donna Cleary and Baiba Saulite, and another young man, 23-year-old Keith Fitzsimons who was shot dead in June, has become yet another innocent victim caught in the cross-fire of gang warfare.