Friday 20 April 2018

How Gilligan got away with murder

Crime reporter Veronica Guerin was a thorn in the side of gangland figures. Photo: David Conachy/INM
Crime reporter Veronica Guerin was a thorn in the side of gangland figures. Photo: David Conachy/INM

Paul Williams

Gangster John Gilligan was acquitted of organising the murder of Veronica Guerin after he ensured that two key state witnesses were too terrified to testify against him.

Carol Rooney, the drug trafficker’s teenage mistress at the time of the murder, and Dutch criminal Martin Baltus, who supplied Gilligan with drugs and guns for almost three years, were both silenced by fear.

Tony Hickey, the garda officer who led the murder investigation which ultimately smashed Gilligan’s evil empires, said that the mobster would be serving life behind bars along with his lieutenant Brian Meehan if that evidence  had been produced in court.

“I have no doubt that if Carol Rooney and Martin Baltus had come to court and given their evidence, Gilligan would have been convicted of murder,” the retired assistant commissioner told the

"Their testimony would have corroborated the evidence of state witness Russell Warren, part of which was discredited by the court," he said.

"On the day of the murder, Warren was sent to Naas to watch Veronica and alert the killers, Brian Meehan and Patrick Holland, that she was on her way.

Tony Hickey: Retired Garda Assistant Commissioner. Photo: Tony Gavin
Tony Hickey: Retired Garda Assistant Commissioner. Photo: Tony Gavin

"Warren was being directed by Gilligan by phone and these conversations were witnessed by Carol Rooney, while Baltus had been dealing directly with him and supplied the .357 magnum pistol Holland used in the murder.

"It was a great pity that the witnesses didn't give their evidence, but in the circumstances, they were both too terrified to come to court," added Hickey, who was one of the most respected crime investigators in the force.

Read more: Remembering Veronica: Terror of the night I was shot

Carol Rooney, who had been Gilligan's 19-year-old mistress for over a year when the murder took place - he was 25 years her senior - was present in a hotel room in Amsterdam as the diminutive thug was issuing orders to his murder team back in Dublin.

The Veronica Guerin Memorial at Dublin Castle.
The Veronica Guerin Memorial at Dublin Castle.

She told gardai how he had laughed and joked on the phone with Veronica's killers, Brian Meehan and Patrick 'Dutchy' Holland, 30 minutes after the outrage. The young woman recalled hearing Gilligan joking to Meehan: "I hear you put a smile on her face… I wonder what criminals she will be investigating now she is in heaven?"

Rooney, however, never gave her crucial evidence after Gilligan sent her to live in Australia. She was arrested by Hickey's officers a year later when she came home to visit her parents and gave them a lengthy statement.

But Gilligan ensured her silence when he organised a campaign of intimidation against her family from behind bars while on remand for the murder and drugs charges.

When Gilligan's trial commenced in the Special Criminal Court in December 2000, prosecutor Peter Charleton said that Martin Baltus, who was being protected by Dutch police, would testify to working directly with Gilligan.

Journalist Veronica Guerin
Journalist Veronica Guerin

Baltus had packed at least 20,000 kilos of hash, a large arsenal of handguns and machine guns, and also laundered huge amounts of the gang's cash.

During the Christmas recess, Gilligan, who was then being held in Portlaoise Prison, instructed his henchmen to kidnap the criminal's daughter in Holland.

Read more: 'Veronica Guerin was an ordinary person who achieved the extraordinary'

In January 2001, the Dutch police contacted the Lucan investigation team to say that Baltus had changed his mind.

It later transpired that during the Christmas adjournment, Baltus's daughter was abducted and held overnight until the drug supplier had a change of heart.

The testimony of Carol Rooney would have been devastating for Gilligan because she had been with him from the time he viciously assaulted Veronica in September 1995 when she attempted to ask him where he got his money.

He was facing a jail sentence for the assault, which would have interrupted his burgeoning drug business and he began plotting to have the journalist murdered.

Rooney was working in a betting shop when she first met Gilligan, who placed huge wagers as a means of laundering his drug money.

The impressionable teenager was charmed by the gangster as he lavished her with expensive gifts, cash and first-class travel around Europe.

She fell out with her parents when they discovered that she had become Gilligan's 'moll' and moved into a rented house in Leixlip on his instructions.

The love nest was also a venue for regular gang meetings where drug supplies were discussed, cash was counted and even guns were stored. Gilligan had admitted to his young lover that he made his money from "hash and guns".

In her statement, Rooney described how Gilligan had become completely obsessed with Veronica, and her murder was openly discussed by all the gang members, including John Traynor, who, at the time, was one of the journalist's underworld sources.

"He was always saying that Veronica Guerin was ruining his wife's equestrian business in Jessbrook and that she was not going to get away with it," Rooney said.

Gilligan and Rooney travelled separately to Holland on June 25, 1996 - the day before the murder was to take place.

She later recalled how that night, Gilligan told her: "After tomorrow, all my problems will be over."

On the day of the assassination, Rooney described how Gilligan was extremely tense and was pacing the hotel room. He was constantly on the phone to his henchmen in Dublin. Rooney heard him calling Russell Warren, one of the gang's gofers and bagmen, demanding to know what was happening.

"Are they gone? Did they get away?"

Warren, who was in shock, replied that the pair on the motorbike had just shot someone.

"Are they dead?" Gilligan demanded to know and Warren said the person in the car had been shot five times.

"The same thing will happen to you and your mate if you do anything about it," he warned before hanging up.

Gilligan got another call as a voice told him to look at the teletext on the TV: it confirmed that a woman had been shot in Dublin and Gilligan began to smile, Rooney recalled.

Then the phone began ringing again as Meehan and Holland phoned to gloat about what they had done.

"I hear you put a smile on her face," Gilligan laughed in a call to Brian Meehan, adding: "I wonder what criminals she will be investigating now she is in heaven?"

"I knew he was involved (but) I could not imagine that he was actually so evil," Rooney later told detectives.

Gilligan told Rooney that Veronica was "going to die anyway because she had cancer", but the journalist had been perfectly healthy.

Then she heard him denying any involvement in the murder on the phone to his wife Geraldine, who immediately suspected that the murder was his doing.

Following the murder, Rooney spent a number of weeks with Gilligan in a safe house in Belgium. But the evil mobster was concerned that Rooney was appalled by his crime.

In August 1996, she agreed to go to Australia to stay with a relation at Gilligan's behest until the heat died down. The night before she left, Rooney met Gilligan and Dutchy Holland in London. Gilligan gave her £8,000 in cash and warned her of what would happen if she ever talked.

Then Holland took her aside and advised her: "Get yourself a new boyfriend, forget about John and everything you've seen and heard and everyone will be alright."

Rooney later told gardai that she took these words as a thinly disguised threat against her and her family.

She remained in Australia until 2002 when she moved back to live in the UK with her boyfriend.

Sunday Independent

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