Wednesday 21 February 2018

Crime mastermind with ice-cold eyes

In January 1995, the Sunday Independent published this profile by journalist Veronica Guerin. The man she describes here, not named at the time, is Gerry Hutch - aka 'The Monk'. It is re-published today as part of a series of articles - 'Remembering Veronica' - to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death

The report as it appeared in 1995
The report as it appeared in 1995

Veronica Guerin

He was the most unlikely criminal mastermind I could imagine. The man sitting opposite me was slight, seeming somehow even smaller than the 5'9" height so diligently recorded in many Garda files.

He was almost nondescript - an anonymous figure in blue jeans and white shirt, a pleasant, smiling man looking younger than his 31 years.

He could have passed as anyone, if he hadn't possessed the most penetrating disconcerting stare I had ever seen. For all the warmth of his manner, the look from his shining blue eyes was cold as ice.

We first met last July. I'd heard that, in collaboration with the IRA, he was planning a major operation. I rang him at his north inner city home and we arranged to meet in the city centre.

Having heard so much about this man, the criminal the guards described as dangerous, I was apprehensive about meeting him. As we spoke he told me about the rumours I'd heard, denying parts of the stories, filling in with details that provided a rare glimpse into the top echelons of Dublin's underworld.

He denied any links with the IRA, but confirmed he'd been interviewed by the organisation after the Widow Scallan's pub bombing. He claimed he was being set up by someone. Gardai and other criminals were "trying to mix it" for him.

At times, he seemed to go on the offensive. He wanted to know how I'd got his unlisted telephone number, telling me not to call him again at his home, handing me instead the number of a mobile telephone - a number that has since been disconnected.

He told me he didn't want stories about himself appearing - he hated the limelight and considered my interest an invasion of his privacy. When I tried to question him about suspicions that he was the city's major heroin dealer he refused to reply, saying he was not going to incriminate himself in anything. Later, he insisted he had nothing to do with drug dealing.

Since then he has become the natural successor to Martin Cahill, the infamous 'General' who was shot last year in Ranelagh. He is surprisingly young to have attracted such notoriety, but for all his relative youth he has already undergone a thorough apprenticeship in crime.

He was just eight years old when he first appeared before the Children's Court on larceny charges. In the next 14 years he appeared before the courts no fewer than 30 times, facing jail terms on more than 10 occasions, being placed on probation 14 times and bound over to keep the peace on six separate court visits.

In 1983, he was sentenced to 12 months in Mountjoy prison for malicious damage. He thought the sentence unduly harsh and appealed, only to find his prison term sentence increased to 24 months by the appeal judge.

After serving his time he walked out of prison for the last time.

According to official records, he drew unemployment assistance for only eight months. Since the day of his release, his life has changed dramatically. In the past decade he has become a wealthy man. He has bought properties in Dublin, largely without bank borrowings or mortgages. Last November, he and his wife took out a small mortgage to buy a luxury property in Clontarf.

I was intrigued about the source of his wealth, and last week he agreed, through intermediaries, to discuss how he made his money. The venue for the meeting was to be the Coachman's Inn, near Dublin Airport and not far from the site of Tuesday's robbery. The time agreed for the meeting was about one hour before the robbery took place. My intended interviewee never kept the date.

Later, I called to his home. I asked if he was prepared to answer my questions about his property ownership and where his funds came from. He refused, telling me to go away.

"Clear off from here," he told me. "Get away from my door."

The man's police record catalogues a series of crimes - from larceny, burglary and assault, to vehicle theft and malicious damage. Guards who have dealt with him since he was a boy told me he was fearless. No crime appears to have been too difficult or dangerous for him to attempt.

He was a born leader, heading gangs of youths from around his north inner city home, smashing the windows of slow moving cars to steal bags and briefcases. This type of crime was at its peak in the 1970s. The children who preyed on motorists earned themselves the nickname 'Bugsy Malones' after the popular movie in which child actors played the roles of gangland hoods.

But although he was admired for his audacity and cunning, he was never part of the criminal scene. As the years passed he became a loner, keeping contact with only one of his youthful cronies, condemning the rest as "talkers". By his late teens he had outgrown his life of petty crime and moved into the major league.

He admired and worked with one person who then had links with the official IRA and also tenuous legitimate business interests, and for a number of years he acted as a runner for this man before moving into criminal activity on his own.

His activities are now covered by a respectable lifestyle. He is a devoted family man, married with five children, all of whom attend private schools. He lives in a beautifully restored three-story house on the northside of the city, is very protective of his family and bitterly resents any intrusion. He socialises little and, when he does, drinks only a shandy. His house was equipped with new windows, said to be bulletproof glass, after the murder of his friend, builder Paddy Shanahan, last year.

He is a careful man. Each day he leaves his home at different times, never falling into the lazy trap of following a predictable routine. Sometimes he takes his children to school and, at other times, his wife will make the journey. He has been seen travelling by car, by moped, on a bicycle and on foot.

Despite his reluctance to discuss the source of his apparently affluent lifestyle, I have been able to gather much information - enough to piece together a fascinating picture of the financial rewards of high-profile criminal activity.

Most surprising is the revelation that this man, the chief suspect in a £3m cash robbery, took advantage of the 1993 tax amnesty to declare himself a financially legitimate citizen.

He declared £200,000 of previously undeclared income and paid £30,000 on that figure. He was not asked to reveal how he made the money, nor did the revenue authorities demand any supporting documentation.

He has since complied with the additional terms of the amnesty, filing tax returns for the years from 1991 to 1994. He has described himself as 'self-employed', stating his income as coming from rents of properties he owns.

I have learned, too, that he has made substantial cash investments in the building of two apartment blocks in the city - payments undeclared against tax.

It is unlikely he will ever be questioned about them, as they are part of a complex chain designed to conceal a money laundering operation. His close links with a number of 'businesses' on Dublin's northside allows him to launder criminal cash through apparently reputable channels.

Undeclared, too, is his ownership of a large house in Dublin's exclusive Donnybrook suburb - a cash purchase for which the money was paid into an off-shore bank account.

It will be difficult for gardai or revenue authorities to prove what has been done. It is possible a joint inquiry by police and tax detectives might prove the man's income was illegal, but the confidentiality clause in the recent tax amnesty presents an immediate obstacle.

If, however, this is successfully challenged, it may be that the criminal - like the gang leader Al Capone before him - is brought to book, not for his more obvious crimes, but for his income tax returns.

Sunday Independent

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