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Wednesday 26 October 2016

Remembering Veronica: Terror of the night I was shot

As part of a series of articles - 'Remembering Veronica' - to commemorate the anniversary of her death 20 years ago this month, the brave journalist recalls the night of January 30, 1995, when she answered the door of her home to face a masked gunman

Veronica Guerin

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

Veronica Guerin in her hospital bed after being treated for gunshot wounds to her leg. She is pictured with senior executives of Independent Newspapers, David Palmer, Aengus Fanning editor of the Sunday Independent and Liam Healy, CEO. Picture: Matt Walsh/INM
Veronica Guerin in her hospital bed after being treated for gunshot wounds to her leg. She is pictured with senior executives of Independent Newspapers, David Palmer, Aengus Fanning editor of the Sunday Independent and Liam Healy, CEO. Picture: Matt Walsh/INM
Gardai outside the home of Veronica Guerin, Cloghran, Co Dublin, following the shooting Picture: Tom Burke/Independent Newspapers/NPA)

My usual Monday night is a diet of soaps, soccer and Questions and Answers. Last week, reluctantly, I accepted two invitations which meant an unwelcome change in my relaxing routine.

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I agreed to appear on the Gerry Ryan Tonight show to discuss crime and the underworld after which was the even more daunting task of facing the Sunday Independent Christmas Party. Yes, Christmas party. That evening my schedule was going around in my mind as I drove to a 5.50pm appointment at Dublin Airport. Just as I arrived there my mobile rang and the meeting was off.

Cursing the cancellation I decided to head to the funeral in Killester of family friend Tom Stafford.

However as I was driving past my home realising I was too late for the funeral, I opted instead to prepare myself and arrange clothes for the evening's event.

I arrived home just before the six o'clock evening news. The house was empty except for myself and the two dogs. Graham, my husband, was at Tom's funeral and Cathal, my son, was in my mother-in-law's.

I watched the beginning of the news and ate an apple. Then the phones started ringing, first my mobile and then the house phone. I then called a friend and we spoke briefly on my mobile again.

This time it was Lise Hand my Sunday Independent colleague, to discuss arrangements for the party. We talked for minutes before she called me back on my home line for a lengthier conversation.

This call was at about 6.25pm. We discussed Eric, Eric and more Eric (Cantona). She told me what was the usual attire for the Christmas party and slagged my intended appearance on the Gerry Ryan Show.

Our conversation was interrupted when I hear a loud knocking on my door. I was on the cordless home phone so I kept talking to Lise as I walked from the kitchen to the hallway to answer the door.

Lise and I kept talking until I reached the door when I said something the effect of "Flip it, I better answer this, I'll see you later."

I opened the main door of my home and there was nobody there. I remember hearing a conversation coming from my neighbour's garden just as I opened the door. The knocking persisted. I quickly realised that my caller was knocking at our old front door which is at the cottage to the front of the house.

I went on up the corridor towards it and as I went to open the door I switched on the outside light. Just as I pulled back the latch, the door was forcefully pushed in and me with it.

I fell back against a door in our hallway. I remember thinking 'what the hell is this' and then this black figure was in front of me with the door closed behind him.

My clearest memory is of the gun. It was the first thing, the only thing I really noticed. My eyes were just fixed on it. It was long, grey, steely, shiny and was pointing directly at me.

His gloved hand, which to me appeared massive, just lifted the gun up towards me. I shifted my eyes up to his, I think maybe to appeal to him, I don't know, but he had no eyes, just a black motorcycle helmet.

I think it was during this glance upwards that I thought he was very stocky, had dark clothes with a stripe on the jacket. He was a broad black figure.

I don't know if I spoke. I know he said nothing. I really believed I was to be killed. My eyes went back to the steely gun, its length to this day clearly fixed in my mind. I saw the narrow barrel with a little lump at the top of the tip.

I don't know why I did what I did next. I do know that I put my hands up to cover my head and I curled myself up into a 'foetus-like' position.

My head was still turning backwards looking at the gun which I now distinctly felt against my leg. This all happened in a matter of seconds and I was screaming - or rather roaring as all this was going on.

My roars came from the pit of my stomach and I can remember them coupled with the noise of the shot, it wasn't a bang, it was more like a roll of thunder. I don't know if this sound was my roaring or the shot.

My next memory is of footsteps running away, loud, thumping footsteps on the wooden hallway floor. I said a loud "I've been shot, Jesus help me, I've been shot." I touched my head. My leg was stinging. I saw little blood but a neat round hole in my leg. I had to get to the phone.

I was lying in the hallway beside my study but for some reason I forgot there was a phone in there.

I dragged myself about 30 feet up to the cordless telephone which was on the ledge beside the main door of the house.

I dialled a number and then switched off, not knowing the number I dialled. I know the number of the local Coolock police station backwards and automatically dialled it.

I just said "Veronica Guerin here, I'm at home and I've just been shot, can you come up." I switched off the phone.

Now I can reflect on the disbelief I felt during those seconds thinking'they've shot me'. The stinging sensation in my leg was getting worse so I called Coolock again and asked them to get a doctor.

The garda voice was reassuring: "Veronica, were you shot?" he asked. "Yes." "Where?" "In my leg. Where's the doctor?" "The ambulance is on its way. Our car will be with you now."

The gardai arrived. I dragged myself up to open the door. Two ban gardai, Carmel and Breda, carried me into a room in the house. I couldn't sit on a chair. I sat on the floor. I wanted Graham.

The local detectives and Special Branch arrived. I know the guys personally and reasonably well because of the previous shooting incident at my home.

They were comforting me. I could see the shock etched on their faces. They were trying to establish the whereabouts of the ambulance.

Cathal Cryan and Mick Ryan, both of whom had been keeping fairly regular contact with my family since the first shooting, were holding me.

The gardai were trying to locate Graham. The phone rang. It was Willie Kealy, my boss. His voice sounded different. "Jesus Veronica, I've just been told you were shot." "I have," I said "but I'm OK".

"Where?" he asked. "In my leg - I'm OK."

The ambulance arrived and the local detective Cathal Cryan travelled with me. In the ambulance I tried to call my family because I didn't want them hearing it on the news and fearing the worst.

I couldn't get any of them. I called my sister-in-law Susan and told her to tell them I'd had an accident but I was fine.

On arrival in Beaumont I was examined by a doctor and taken to X-Ray. It seemed as though hordes of gardai were examining the pictures.

Graham arrived, remarkably cool under the circumstances. I was then brought to casualty and put on a drip and given an injection.

All this time I felt very little pain. My family began to arrive, their shock apparent, but seeing I was alive and reasonably well, quickly relaxed.

The Chief Superintendent for the area, Jim McHugh arrived. His shock was also apparent. While he was there Graham noticed the bullet and burn marks in my jacket. He gave it to McHugh who kept remarking how lucky I was.

The chief surgeon, Mr Deasy, arrived and examined my leg. He explained in detail what he intended doing to remove the bullet and said they were preparing me immediately for surgery.

Throughout that whole period in casualty Rita Daly, the nurse in charge, kept me briefed on everything. I spoke by phone to my sisters in Kerry and Portmarnock, both of whom were in greater shock than I.

My next memory is being brought out of theatre and being shown the bullet.

The next day days are a haze as I was out of my head on painkilling drugs. The staff at Beaumont Hospital were wonderful, too many to mention, but I cannot ignore their kindness.

Sunday Independent

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