Monday 15 October 2018

How drugs kingpin was caught in the act

The prosecution of crime boss Brian Rattigan laid bare the mechanics of drug dealing in Ireland, reports Jim Cusack

Brian Rattigan
Brian Rattigan
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

In the early hours of August 25, 2001, Brian Rattigan was at a party to celebrate his younger brother Joey's 18th birthday at a house in Dublin. Rattigan and others were drinking beer and snorting cocaine. Late in the evening, word reached the Rattigans that Declan Gavin, a rival in the local drugs trade, was at the Abrakebabra takeaway a short distance away on Crumlin Road.

Brian Rattigan armed himself with a carving knife and went after Gavin. As he got out of his car, Rattigan was heard shouting: "There he is over there. Get the rat."

Rattigan, wearing a ski mask, walked up to Gavin and said: "Deco ya rat, you're dead." He then plunged the knife into Gavin's heart, twisting the blade as he did so. Gavin, who was two weeks short of his 21st birthday, staggered into the takeaway but bled to death shortly after.

It was the first of 16 murders in what became known as the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud, the bloodiest in Irish criminal history.

Declan Gavin was murdered because Rattigan suspected him of being a garda informant. The previous year Gavin had twice escaped arrest when large amounts of cocaine and ecstasy were seized by gardai at premises where he had been involved in cutting up the drugs for supply. It was a coincidence that Gavin was not in the rooms where the drugs were found.

On the second occasion when cocaine and ecstasy with an estimated street value of €1.6m was seized, Gavin happened to have stepped outside the hotel room in Pearse Street in Dublin city centre when the garda raid took place. His two associates cutting up the cocaine with coffee grinders inside the room were arrested and later sentenced.

The retaliation for Gavin's murder came the following March when two gunmen forced their way into Brian Rattigan's home on Cooley Road and shot him with a shotgun and pistol as he slept upstairs. Rattigan suffered serious injuries, losing a kidney and his spleen.

A woman in the house at the time made a statement naming Freddie Thompson, Rattigan's chief rival, as one of the gunmen but her statement was deemed to be insufficient to support charges.

Shortly after Brian Rattigan's release from hospital, his brother Joey was shot dead as he walked along a street after a night out in south inner Dublin in July 2002. When he recovered from his injuries, Brian Rattigan went straight back into his drug dealing and sought to avenge his brother's murder.

In the early hours of February 15, 2003, Rattigan and his associates Wayne Zambra and Gary Bryan were driving to a house where they intended to kill two or more of their rivals when they were spotted by two uniformed gardai, Paul Maher and Patrick Smith. The gardai gave chase and Rattigan opened fire with a military-grade automatic shotgun, hitting the garda car three times. As the chase continued, the unarmed gardai were joined by two armed detectives who cornered Rattigan in a cul de sac off Bluebell Road. As the detectives approached, Rattigan levelled the shotgun at them and tried to fire, but all the cartridges were spent.

By the following year when he came to trial for possessing the shotgun, he was already serving a six-year sentence for possession of heroin worth €27,000 imposed in May 2003. He has been in prison since.

Gardai mounted a succession of cases against Rattigan for offences including assault causing grievous harm and false imprisonment. In all instances, there was serious intimidation of witnesses. Rattigan boasted that such was the fear he inspired that no one would give evidence against him. One man who went as far going to court to testify refused to give evidence and rather accepted a two-year sentence for contempt.

As the feud wore on, the two men who had been with Rattigan when he fired on the gardai were murdered. Wayne Zambra was shot dead in August 2006 and Gary Bryan a month later. Both were 21.

Rattigan, 32, who comes from a respectable family background but who became involved in drug dealing and violence in his mid-teens, continued to urge retaliation and control his drug business from Portlaoise Prison where he had ready access to mobile phones and Sim cards.

The charge for which he was sentenced to 17 years last week related to one of his last bouts of controlling his heroin supply as the end was in sight for his gang. His last important lieutenant, Anthony Cannon, was shot dead in July 2009, effectively ending the feud between Rattigan's gang and Thompson's gang.

During the trial, which ended last Wednesday, the mechanics of major drug dealing in Ireland were laid out at the Special Criminal Court as gardai described the detail of the possession and supply of heroin with a street value of nearly a million euro. Rattigan never touched the drugs which were discovered in a house on Hughes Road South in Walkinstown, Dublin, in May 2008. But mobile phone evidence was sufficiently conclusive to obtain a conviction.

The court heard that gardai found the drugs in a holdall in the house along with a red and white Nokia telephone and charger and an electric weighing scales in a back shed. They also found €36,000 in cash, more mobile phones and documents in a bedroom.

During the search, gardai said that Anthony Cannon arrived. He was searched and his mobile phone seized.

Gardai had obtained a warrant to search Rattigan's cell on Landing E1 in Portlaoise, a single cell Rattigan had to himself.

The judges said: "When the gardai entered the cell, it is alleged that Mr Rattigan was on his bed and had a mobile phone in his hand. It is further alleged that when the gardai entered, he threw the mobile phone out the door. It was found that the phone that was thrown out the door aforesaid had two SIM cards, one in it and another attached to the back of it. The search of the cell uncovered a Samsung mobile phone, another SIM card and some notebooks."

Among the texts sent from Rattigan's prison phone was one that stated: "That dark is there rm." "Dark" is slang for heroin, the court heard.

Another read: "Can you give me a half a box of the bad thing for 13 i'm waiting on a few bob so i can sort you out."

The prosecution alleged that a "box" is a kilo of heroin and that amounted to a request for half a kilo of heroin for €13,000. The prosecution added: "Another message from the same device was addressed to an addressee called Lips (Lips is alleged to refer to a Ms Natasha McEnroe, the then partner of the accused). The same read 'Drop 30 euro up to the Paret man'. 'Paret Man', it is alleged, was the nickname of Anthony O'Connell, the owner of the premises in which the drugs were found and that €30 was thought to refer to €30,000."

Another text from Rattigan's phone was addressed to "Dicko" and read: "Change ur number they got greeesey with 5 nasty he fucked, its on tex". This, the court heard, was a reference to Anthony O'Connell being caught in possession of five kilos of heroin. A further message to "Lips" read: "Get rid of ur phones quick".

Gardai also gave evidence of searching Natasha McEnroe's home and finding a notebook with "very similar" content to a notebook found in Rattigan's cell. The contents amounted to a "tick list" for drugs. The notes also corresponded to text messages on the seized phones.

Rattigan had been in the same cell on his own since 2004 and the discovery of his phone and the text contents led to the judges finding that the material concerned drugs transactions and "that the directing force behind it was Mr Rattigan and that he was doing so by means of telephone communication from his cell in Portlaoise Prison".

Another piece of paper found in the cell had "what appeared to be names and amounts in euros". It contained details of sums of money apparently owed by 20 people, all with nicknames, ranging from €4,000 to €64,000.

The court also heard that on October 27, 2008 gardai stopped Natasha McEnroe in a car on Cooley Road, Crumlin, and seized €49,880 in cash. A warrant was obtained to search a premises at Cooley Road in Crumlin. Natasha McEnroe, Christina Rattigan and Richie Rattigan were at the house when the search was carried out. At the house, gardai found what was said to be betting slips and diaries containing details of major betting on top English soccer teams through Paddy Power and Hackett bookmakers.

A Paddy Power employee examined the slips and found 52 potentially matched bets between the notebook and the Paddy Power system, 15 were potential dial-a-bet matches and 37 were potential retail matches. The total value of the bets staked was €22,469.09. A cheque, dated October 21, 2007, for €10,426.30 was paid to Natasha McEnroe, and on page 15 of the notebook, dated October 20, 2007, there was an entry, for €10,426.

The court also heard detail of the wholesale and street price of heroin in Dublin. A detective said that the price of heroin on the streets at the time of the seizure was €200 per gram. He said the heroin seized in the Hughes Road house was 4,973 grams, which amounted to €994,720.

Rattigan might have hoped to serve between eight and 15 years for murder had he, as the court heard last week, been of good behaviour (his barrister told of his active involvement in education courses and in pantomimes including Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz). But it is now likely he will serve 20 years in jail.

Irish Independent

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