Sunday 18 November 2018

A woman in the way of a drug baron's ambitions

As John Gilligan tries to blame the murder of Veronica Guerin on his former 'fixer', John Traynor, Jim Cusack looks at the likely involvement of both

For a life in crime, John Traynor -- the man accused by John Gilligan last week of having ordered journalist Veronica Guerin's murder -- has served remarkably little time in prison.

He has been in trouble with the law since his childhood, when he was caught breaking into houses and, later, in possession of stolen goods and firearms. He amassed a dozen convictions before making a career of deception and fraud.

He was named in court in the mid-1980s as the "major fraud criminal" behind an Ir£1m scam involving the theft of Revenue Commissioner cheques, but was never charged.

He moved to England, where he was arrested while in possession of a large amount of stolen property. In 1990, he received a seven-year sentence. It was the longest sentence he had ever received, and the last.

Remarkably, within two years he was out. He arrived back in Dublin on what was officially a "compassionate" weekend visit to his family. In reality, Traynor had agreed to act as an informant against the then "Mr Big" of Irish crime, Martin Cahill, well know as "The General".

Cahill and his gang carried out one of the biggest art heists since the Second World War with the theft of paintings from the Beit collection in Russborough House in Co Wicklow.

Cahill had also stolen sensitive files from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Dublin, files which gave the criminal underworld an insight into the workings of the gardai and the prosecutorial system.

Within a year or so of Traynor's release from prison in Manchester, the DPP files and several Beit paintings were returned. Within two years of his release, Martin Cahill was shot dead

As Martin Cahill and his gang met their demise, and John Gilligan and his gang extended their power and influence, John Traynor was left untouched.

There is a theory that Martin Cahill was murdered by the Provisional IRA because he was dealing with the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). This version suggests that the arrest in Istanbul of three UVF men trying to sell three Beit paintings was evidence of Cahill's links to the loyalists.

When Cahill was shot dead in August 1994, the IRA issued a statement saying that he had been killed because he had been in cahoots with the loyalists. They claimed he had helped them carry out a failed bomb attack on a Sinn Fein function at the Widow Scallan's pub in Dublin earlier that year, in which an IRA doorman had been shot dead.

The UVF have always denied this and claimed they had never heard of Martin Cahill until he was shot dead. But they did say their members had bought three paintings through an intermediary, Tommy Coyle, a leading underworld "fence" based in Drogheda who was known throughout the British and Irish underworld.

The Mid-Ulster UVF had apparently made a deal with Coyle and took the paintings as payment, they say.

A few weeks later the IRA called its first ceasefire..

It was not until a few years later, however, that a more plausible version of events came to light -- and John Traynor was at the centre of it.

After the murder of Veronica Guerin, a semi-autonomous investigation team was set up in Lucan Garda Station under the direction of Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey.

The Lucan team quickly discovered that John Traynor had been an informant for someone high up in the gardai. Given his relationship with Gilligan, Traynor was also a suspect in the murder.

As the Lucan team delved into Traynor's activities, this separate version of events surrounding Cahill's murder emerged. Traynor had negotiated a deal between Cahill and Gilligan that would effectively set up Gilligan's drug-importing empire.

Cahill had a large amount of cash that he needed to invest for his retirement -- he was suffering from worsening health due to diabetes. He agreed to put up a large sum, up to £600,000, to finance Gilligan's first large shipment of cannabis from his Lebanese contact in Amsterdam. In return, Gilligan would repay Cahill the £600,000, plus another £600,000, along with a percentage of all subsequent shipments. With Traynor present, a deal was struck. Within 18 months of his release from Portlaoise in 1993, John Gilligan was in the big time. The shipment came through; but he still had to pay about £1.2m to the ailing Martin Cahill.

The Lucan detectives discovered that at around the same time, Traynor had struck up a close relationship with the group called the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). This was little less than a few dozen ex-paramilitaries who still traded on the name of one of the most murderous terrorist groups to have emerged in the Troubles.

Traynor had used the Dublin INLA to pass several hundred thousand pounds- worth of dud cheques.

Although small in number, the INLA did have several members who were proficient in the use of firearms. More importantly, the INLA leadership had had a dispute with Martin Cahill, who had publicly humiliated them. They wanted revenge.

Gilligan was faced with the situation where he could either pay Martin Cahill a huge portion of his profits, or not. The latter required that Cahill be killed. It is believed that, through Traynor, the INLA was recruited to make that happen.

To shift the blame, the INLA arranged for their friends in the Dublin IRA to claim responsibility. It is believed that the INLA and IRA received £30,000 each for their part, with further payments in guns and cash as part of a "protection" deal for Gilligan and his gang. Gilligan was now in business, and Traynor was the king-maker who put him there.

Traynor enjoyed the trappings of the high life, and his inflated ego probably led him to want to boost his reputation -- and what better way than through contact with the most high-profile crime journalist in Ireland, Veronica Guerin?

Detectives who investigated her murder believe Traynor enjoyed this contact with Veronica as a validation of his position as a kingpin in the Dublin crime scene, above the "common" robbers and drug- peddlers.

He may have been a bit too open at times. He was blamed when Veronica revealed that Martin Cahill had a sexual relationship not only with his wife but one of her sisters. Apparently, associates of the Cahills were infuriated and Traynor was told that if he did not deal with Veronica then they would deal with him. Traynor agreed to have Veronica murdered, or an attempt made to do so. That took place on the night of January 29, 1995 when a heroin-addicted former armed robber called at Veronica's house at Cloghran, aimed a reconditioned .45 revolver at her as she opened the door, and pulled the trigger. The gun failed to fire. He aimed again at her chest, and again it failed to fire. As he shook the gun, a bullet discharged, striking her right thigh.

Veronica had no reason to link the attempt on her life with Traynor. There were plenty of other people -- including friends of Martin Cahill -- who had reason to attack her.

She continued with her pursuit of John Gilligan whom, from 1995, she had begun to identify as a major figure on Dublin's underworld scene. By the spring of 1996, she became aware of Gilligan's equestrian centre venture at Jessbrook, and that he had taken over as the biggest drug-importer in the country.

Gilligan's enterprises were generating millions of pounds, and he and his criminal associates were holidaying in upmarket resorts in the Caribbean and the Alps. This lifestyle was threatened when Veronica persisted in her inquiries -- to the point of confronting Gilligan at Jessbrook, where he attacked and beat her. By doing so, Gilligan put his entire operation in jeopardy.

He had an exclusive relationship with drug contacts in Amsterdam and could not hand this over to his associates, particularly not Traynor, for fear that they would do to him what they had previously done to Cahill.

He was facing at least six months' imprisonment for the assault on Veronica. As the day of the assault hearing drew near, he needed to stop it from going ahead. Gilligan's gang were also highly motivated to prevent him from going to prison, as their lifestyles would be threatened. They would stop at nothing.

It may never be proven whether or not Traynor was the instigator of the plot to kill Veronica, as Gilligan claimed in court last Tuesday. Certainly, he knew Veronica, and might have known that she was going to court in Kilcock that day to answer a speeding summons.

What is known is that when Veronica was shot dead at the traffic lights at Newlands Cross, Traynor was driving around the track at Mondello Park in Kildare. He even took a corner too fast and flipped the car over in front of witnesses.

It is likely that Traynor knew Veronica was to be killed and wanted to be out of the way. As the investigation intensified, Traynor disappeared, moving between Spain and Holland.

The focus of the Lucan team was very much on the suspected gunman, 'Dutchy' Holland, and the Gilligan gang member Brian Meehan, who had driven the motorcycle.

In September 1997, gardai followed a young woman whom they believed was bringing messages and money from gang members in Dublin to Brian Meehan in Holland. To their surprise, when the girl met Meehan he was accompanied by John Traynor. Traynor had, according to Assistant Garda Commissioner Tony Hickey, a watertight alibi. There was no case against him. Meehan was extradited back to Ireland and is now serving life for Veronica's murder.

It is unlikely John Gilligan will ever go to the gardai and make a statement of evidence to back up the claim he made in court on Tuesday. However, it does indicate that the relationship between Gilligan and his "fixer" has ended.

Gilligan is now finished, and John Traynor knows this. As Tony Hickey pointed out last week, if John Gilligan is an innocent man who has been wrongfully accused of ordering the murder of Veronica Guerin and he has information about John Traynor, then he has the absolute right to make a statement to gardai to that effect. "He is renowned for telling the truth," he joked.

"It is a load of baloney," he added. "We were not dependent on Charlie Bowden or Russell Warren [the two gang members who turned State's evidence]. There was a substantial amount of corroborative evidence that he [Gilligan] planned Veronica's murder."

Another serving detective referred to Gilligan as "attention seeking". "He is no one now. He just doesn't know it."

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