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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Beginning of the end for a conman and sex abuser

Colin Goggin was charming and well-connected but there was a dark side to the man behind aid for Beslan, writes Donal Lynch

Women mourn at Beslan’s School No 1 where 333 people were murdered in 2004 (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Women mourn at Beslan’s School No 1 where 333 people were murdered in 2004 (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

It was dubbed 'Band Aid for Beslan' and to those who were involved, it was an unforgettably moving evening.

When little Georgiy Farniev walked onstage at the National Concert Hall in Dublin in January 30, 2005 there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

Georgiy's image had been beamed around the world as he played at the feet of the hostage takers; he was the winsome face of the crisis and therefore the real guest of honour even if the crowd also included the then Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Vladimir Rakhmanin.

Some of the Irish children and teachers present rehearsed and fundraised for months prior to the concert, with many travelling from around the country to be there. All agreed the night had been a huge success.

At the time, Beslan was still dominating world news. The crisis - in which Chechen rebels took 1,100 schoolchildren hostage on September 1, 2004 - was recognised as the worst terrorist atrocity since 9/11. After being starved and tortured ultimately 333 people had been killed, 186 of them children.

It was widely understood the Russian government had mismanaged the crisis and the eventual storming of the school and had subsequently distorted reports of the numbers of deaths. There was a huge international will to step in and help the ordinary Russians who had been affected.

The concert, which took place against this backdrop, had been the brainchild of Colin Goggin, a self-styled sports doctor and martial arts expert from Foxrock in Dublin who had worked with many large sports organisations.

Goggin, known to many as simply 'the doc', had visited schools in Kilkenny and Dublin in the months leading up to the concert and had personally collected funds at the army barracks in Kilkenny. He had also organised a 'Kilkenny Bachelor of the Year' competition at a pub in Kilkenny city and had gone on Liveline to make a further fundraising appeal for Beslan.

His plan, he said, was to bring aid and psychologists from Ireland to Russia to counsel and help care for the Beslan children and their families. According to news reports at the time, a group of 20 psychologists was expected to start work in Beslan from February 2005. Goggin was well placed to organise this kind of fundraising event. Those who knew him described him as 'charming and unbelievably clever' and an eloquent and persuasive speaker.

He also had connections in Russia, having travelled there often as part of his involvement in martial arts and claimed to have academic connections with Stavropol University in the south western part of the country.

Colin Goggin ran concerts to ‘help the children’ — but was later convicted of sexually abusing two teenage boys and possession of child pornography
Colin Goggin ran concerts to ‘help the children’ — but was later convicted of sexually abusing two teenage boys and possession of child pornography

As the brother of Brian Goggin, then CEO of Bank of Ireland, he was presumed to be well connected.

Around the time of the concert and in its aftermath, alarm bells were already ringing for some of those observing the way Goggin's fundraising initiative was being run.

At the time there had been huge amounts of money donated by Irish people to relief efforts in Beslan.

Rather than each separate organisation doing its own thing, it would have made more sense for the money to have been pooled and coordinated though a single body with a good understanding of what was, after all, a fairly remote part of Russia.

Goggin had abruptly refused overtures from other charitable bodies to work together to bring aid to Beslan. He seemed determined to do things on his own.

In addition, some of those actually involved in his fundraising efforts had reservations about him.

"He was highly charming but he also seemed to drink a lot," Regina O'Leary who coordinated fundraising at a Kilkenny school for Goggin's Beslan project, including one concert, told the Sunday Independent.

"And we all thought it odd that for a doctor he didn't drive a car. He always got the bus in and out of Kilkenny."

The Irish embassy in Moscow had also not heard from Goggin and was not sure what work was being carried out with the money he had raised.

At the time, the charity sector in Ireland was largely unregulated. To assuage public doubt in the face of this legal limbo, reputable charities offered fully and independently audited accounts, which could be viewed by the public and showed how each cent that was contributed had been spent.

Colin Goggin never offered to do this during or after his fundraising efforts for Beslan. Email and telephone questions put to him in this regard by the Sunday Independent went unanswered.

Little more was heard about Goggin's project for Beslan and the man himself kept a remarkably low profile over the following year. However, in that same year, an Irishman living in America who had been treated by Goggin many years ago by chance saw his name on the internet with news about the successful concert for Beslan.

The man, a former elite athlete, felt instantly sick and ran to the bathroom to throw up. He recognised Goggin as the man whom, he said, had sexually abused him many years before when he was in his early teens. He contacted friends in Ireland who confirmed Goggin's identity. He subsequently travelled to Ireland and made a formal complaint in person to gardai.

Around the same time, a number of sports organisations for which Goggin had been working received written correspondence from the HSE. They were advised that complaints had been made to gardai about Goggin, and that their legal advice was that he should, with immediate effect, be removed from working with children.

There had been rumours about Goggin for years prior. Former Bohemians manager Roddy Collins publicly alleged last week that he saw the self-styled sports doctor massaging a semi-naked boy at Dalymount Park in 1998.

It would be almost another decade from then before the net would begin to close around Goggin - but Beslan was the beginning of the end.

Goggin left Kilkenny with several burnt bridges in his wake. He had stayed in a hotel in the city and had left without paying his bill, which at that point ran up to thousands of euro. He also owed money for advertising fees to a martial arts publication.

Gardai began by questioning local people in Kilkenny, asking them not to alert the media to the investigation into Goggin's conduct.

As more allegations piled up against Goggin, people took a closer look at the man and his reputation. It turned out that 'Dr' Goggin was not, in fact, registered as a doctor with the Medical Council of Ireland.

He also did not hold the professorship, which several internet sites seemed to claim for him.

"Colin grew up in Foxrock in an upper middle class family and went to Oatlands College," a friend of his told the Sunday Independent. "He had two high-achieving brothers - Brian, as you know, went on to great things - and I think he felt a lot of pressure to sort of live up to them. That's where the 'Dr' bit came from'.

"He studied German - but as far as I'm aware didn't do much with it. He got involved in amateur sports on a voluntary basis and built up a reputation for himself as being very good. He got involved in martial arts and became a bit of a self-made expert in that."

People in the martial arts community remember him in similar terms.

"He was known on the scene going back over 25 years," one former fighter remembers. "We called him 'the doc'. He would give physicals to fighters before they got in the ring - to make sure they were physically OK to do it. Of course there were sexual abuse rumours swirling about him for years - some of the lads would make jokes about it - but really nobody could ever prove anything."

Goggin's former wife split with him amid fears that he was a conman.

Perhaps reflecting this ever shifting CV, Goggin's Wikipedia entry seemed to change almost on a weekly basis as the investigation against him progressed. One of the final entries extolled Goggin's 'quick wit', 'wonderful intellect' and his ability 'to distil some of the most complex issues in spheres from medicine to law'.

His Wikipedia page has since been deleted entirely.

Goggin fled to Spain after his first victim came forward in 2007. He remained there for five years until he was returned to Ireland on a European arrest warrant. He later failed to show up for his trial before being caught and remanded in custody until sentencing.

Judge Martin Nolan called them "serious offences" and said it was Goggin's involvement with athletics which gave him access to young victims. He imposed three years for the offences against each of Goggin's victims and two years for possession of child pornography.

By this time Goggin had told his debtors and those who had fundraised for Beslan that he was suffering from terminal cancer, although the alleged illness was not mentioned in trial reports.

Sunday Independent

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