News Analysis

Wednesday 17 September 2014

You can run, but you can't hide from brutal gangland assassins

Gangsters who flee the capital in fear of their lives are being hunted down and mercilessly slain, writes Jim Cusack

Published 30/09/2012 | 05:00

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Declan O'Reilly
Gerard Eglington

A decade or so ago, the place to murder a rival gang member in Dublin or Limerick was generally in the pub or outside a chipper. Men who knew or suspected they were on a hit-list stopped going to pubs where a Judas with a mobile phone could summon an assassin.

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John Wilson, who was shot dead on Friday, was one of the reasons socialising in pubs became a problem in Dublin. He shot up the Players' Lounge pub in Fairview in July 2010. He walked up to the pub with a gun in each hand and sprayed customers and staff, severely injuring three innocent men.

House parties became more popular places to drink and take drugs. But they became dangerous too, and a number of gangsters met their fate at these. The trend today, as displayed three times last week, is to murder men at their homes, the targets made especially easy if they have the settled movements associated with children and school.

Wilson, 35, had walked his eight-year-old daughter home from school each day and that gave his murderers the opportunity to assassinate him. Only by chance, Wilson had just dropped his daughter off at her friend's house a few doors from the family home on Cherry Orchard Avenue at 3pm. Otherwise the child may have been holding her father's hand when he was gunned down.

Yesterday Gardai arrested a west Dublin man in his 30s in connection with this offence, and last night were questioning him under the Offences Against the State Act which allows his detention before charge for seven days.

It is believed Wilson became a target after two of his close associates, both suspected professional assassins and widely feared in Dublin, were imprisoned in the past year. There were two previous gun attacks, one causing a leg injury, and a pipe bomb was left at his house.

Wilson's brutally public murder in broad daylight and at the front door of his home, and the two killings within 12 hours of each other last Monday, also in a family setting, came as no surprise to gardai acquainted with the worst elements of Dublin's gangland scene. In the past couple of decades, they have come across a succession of killers who appear utterly amoral.

The killers of 27-year-old Gerard Eglington clearly knew he would be in the presence of his four-year-old son and 11-year-old stepdaughter when they walked into his house in the Kilnacourt Woods estate in Portarlington, Co Laois, at breakfast time last Monday. They had watched his partner leave minutes earlier to go to the local shop.

Eglington had moved to Portarlington because he was under constant threat in Dublin. He had attacked a man and woman with close links to one of the feuding factions in the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud, slashing the woman in the face with a knife and breaking the man's leg.

At one point last year gardai learned that two hit teams planned to shoot him in Dublin city centre, and they swamped the area with armed officers.

Eglington joined an increasing number of drug dealers and gangsters who left Dublin in the hope of staying alive. Increasingly, they are being hunted down and shot in quiet Leinster towns. Eglington was facing charges relating to a cocaine-fuelled rampage in a Midlands pub where he slashed staff and customers with a knife after being refused drink.

In March this year 31-year-old Andy Barry, originally from west Dublin, was shot dead in his house in Kilcock, Co Kildare, along with his Lithuanian associate Zilvinas Varnauskas, also 31, by a gunman sent to settle a score by a Tallaght-based gang that Barry had crossed. Barry's partner died last year, leaving him to bring up their child -- who, only by good fortune, was not present when her father was murdered.

Two other Dubliners, Anthony Burnett, 32, and Joseph Redmond, 25, were shot dead as they sat in a stolen car while meeting another Dublin gangland killer who had fled to Co Down to avoid the gardai and,

probably, assassination by rivals from the Alan Ryan "Real" IRA faction.

The man they were sent to meet, two days after the murders of Barry and Varnauskas, shot them both dead in the car at their rendezvous just south of the Border in Ravensdale Forest, then set it alight.

In June last year two ex-Dubliners were murdered: Gerard Daly, 43, an innocent man who had moved to Co Cavan to escape a Dublin gang, was abducted, murdered and his body buried in a secret grave; and 53-year-old Michael Taylor, who was shot dead at his caravan in the north Co Dublin coastal resort of Donabate. The previous September, Sean Winters, 38, who had fled north Dublin because of the threat to his life, was tracked down and shot dead in Portmarnock. No one has been charged with any of these murders.

The number of men who are fleeing Dublin -- and similarly, Limerick -- to avoid being murdered is an indication of how dangerous the city has become, gardai say.

The deaths of two men in particular sent chills through the community of people involved in drugs and crime in Dublin. Alan Napper, aged 39, and David Lindsay, 38, both from Coolock in north Dublin, had both moved from the city to escape the gang led by Eamon Dunne, the gangland "supremo" who made a habit of annihilating all opposition and who was eventually shot dead in April 2009.

Lindsay and Napper were living in Co Meath and may have believed they were out of harm's way. But they were lured to a meeting, ostensibly over the division of the proceeds of a drugs shipment, to a house outside Newry, Co Down, in July 2008.

Lindsay and Napper's killers, hired assassins who are among the most depraved men gardai say they have ever encountered in Dublin, subjected them to prolonged torture before murdering the two men and burying their bodies secretly.

Gardai have a secondhand account of the torture and murder from one of the assassins which they believe he recounted in order to drive fear into other potential victims. He spoke of how, after hours of torture, one of his victims pleaded to be killed. He evidently derived considerable pleasure from his work. Gardai say the torturer comes from a family background riven with violence and incest.

As word of the torture and murder spread, there was an exodus of peripheral Dublin criminal figures from 2008 onwards. Those who could afford it fled abroad.

Three, however, were tracked down and murdered. Richard Keogh, 30, an unfortunate who had become mixed up with elements of Eamon Dunne's gang, was tracked to Benalmadena in Spain and shot dead outside a club in January 2009. Christopher Gilroy, from north inner-city Dublin, who disappeared around the same time after having fled to Spain, is also believed to have been murdered and buried secretly. The dismembered remains of Keith Ennis, 29, from Clondalkin, were fished from a canal in Amsterdam in April 2009. He was killed for inadvertently leading gardai to a major cocaine and arms stash after gardai found the lease of a lock-up unit during a search of his flat.

The Dublin gangs select particularly inhumane deaths for those they most want to publicly punish. Shooting them dead in front of their families is only one option.

Members of the feuding opponents of Freddie Thompson's gang gave a ghastly death to 21-year-old Eddie McCabe from Inchicore. McCabe was a minor figure on the edge of Thompson's operations and was singled out simply because he was an easy target. His inquest in 2010 heard that a "rigid object" -- in fact, a sewer rod -- was rammed into the right side of his brain after he had already been beaten senseless by two or three men in a laneway near his home in December 2006.

The gang leader who ordered his execution apparently insisted that something be done to the victim's eyes. The sewer rod was used, apparently, to gouge out his eyes from behind. The torturer/killer was the same age as his victim at the time.

Experienced gardai in south Dublin who might occasionally be accused of being case-hardened recoil at the mention of this murder. They know McCabe's murderer, another young man currently serving a lengthy jail term, and know that as an abandoned and semi-feral teenager he once slashed a woman's throat for no apparent reason, almost killing her.

Gardai who knew him growing up recount how he was arrested time and time again as a teenager but repeatedly allowed bail despite the clear and increasing danger he posed to society. The lack of proper detention and correction facilities for such dangerous juveniles is, they say, one of the main reasons many go on to become such vicious killers. Gardai commented on this abject failure in the justice system last week as they listened to the usual condemnations of the latest killings.

Although last week's murders were marked by the callousness of killing a parent in front of children, neither the killings nor the nature of the murders surprised gardai.

Eglington left Dublin in June last year after he escaped death in a gun attack on a public house in Inchicore in which an innocent young man, Darren Cogan, 21, was shot dead by mistake. Gardai say there was a permanent lookout for Eglington, who was the "last man standing" in the faction that had been challenging Freddie Thompson's gang. Eglington was violent and of low intelligence and without the sufficient self-preservation instincts not to get in the face of Thompson's gang associates.

Declan O'Reilly, 32, who was shot dead last week as he walked near Harold's Cross with his 12-year-old son, had also been a marked man since his release from prison. He was acquitted of murdering another prisoner, Derek Glennon, 24, in Mountjoy Prison in 2007. O'Reilly successfully claimed in court he had killed in self-defence.

Glennon's associates are closely linked with the Thompson faction. Investigating detectives are examining a theory that the two murders were mounted close to each other by way of dealing with the last unsettled scores arising from the bloody Drimnagh-Crumlin feud, which is the bloodiest in the history of the State and in which, by last week, had claimed 18 lives.

The State's response to Dublin and Limerick gang violence has been to introduce stronger laws, including the trying of gang-related cases in the non-jury Special Criminal Court and the introduction of legislation allowing secretly taped conversations to be used in evidence. This may have had a temporary impact in reducing gangland slaying since 2009, the year in which a record 29 people were killed in Dublin alone. There was a total of 24 gang-related killings in 2010. The number was down last year to 16, and so far this year there have been 12 killings.

Dublin experiences an unusually high level of gang-related shootings -- and it could be at the top of the league in Europe but for sustained work by effective detective units.

Last week gardai expressed concern that as the force's budgets become increasingly squeezed, anti-gang operations -- work that is best done using overtime -- could be adversely affected.

And they point out that, just as the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud was the by-product of violent young gangsters emerging from their teens and gaining access to guns, so this gangland violence is becoming a self-perpetuating characteristic of criminal life in the city. And the next generation is just as vicious and ruthless.

Sunday Independent

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