Thursday 16 August 2018

Tangled up in a web of murder

Tom and Catherine Nevin outside Jack White's Pub
Tom and Catherine Nevin outside Jack White's Pub
Gerry Heapes. Picture: Collins
John Jones
William McClean
Catherine Nevin with husband Tom Photo: COLLINS DUBLIN
Tom Nevin's funeral. Picture: Collins
Catherine at Tom's graveside. Picture: Collins
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Catherine Nevin, who became known as 'The Black Widow' in sections of the media following the murder of her husband Tom at Jack White's Inn, near Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, was convicted of his murder and conspiracy to murder after a lengthy and highly publicised trial nearly 18 years ago.

Nevin, who died last Monday at the age of 67, was held in Mountjoy women's prison until she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour less than two years ago. She was later given full-time temporary release to spend her dying days in a nursing home in the Beaumont area of Dublin. Her husband Tom, known as a "gentle giant", was shot dead in the kitchen of the pub in what at first appeared to be a bungled robbery in the early hours of March 19, 1996. A sum of £16,550 was taken and the raiders left in the Nevins' Opel Omega, which was later found abandoned in Dublin city.

When gardai arrived at the pub at 4.45am after a 999 call from Catherine Nevin they found her sitting on the floor behind the hall door of the pub, which was slightly ajar. Her hands were tied by a dressing gown cord. She had freed herself from a gag, a pair of black panties which had been tied around her mouth with a nylon stocking, to make the call.

Dressed in a purple nightshirt and a pair of white panties, she claimed a hooded man had threatened her with a knife demanding: "Where's the fucking jewellery? If you don't tell us we'll kill you."

Her husband, who had been drinking a glass of Guinness, was lying dead in the kitchen of the pub, killed by a shotgun blast to the chest fired at close range. The nearby safe had been ransacked, its trays scattered on the kitchen floor and the money gone. Although a jewellery box in her bedroom had been opened and its contents scattered around the room, the raiders had, apparently, left without taking any of it, which made detectives suspicious. They were also aware that Nevin, now the grieving widow, had conducted numerous love affairs. She also had what they believed was an unorthodox friendship with a local Garda inspector and the local district judge.

Even as she stood at his graveside in Barndarrig Cemetery days after the killing, elegantly dressed in black and carrying a single red rose which she dropped on her husband's coffin, Nevin, was the prime suspect in his murder.

*****

Catherine Scully was born on October 1, 1950 on a small farm in Kilboggan, near the village of Nurney, Co Kildare. One of three children, she went to the local primary school and the Presentation College in Kildare town. She left home straight after school and got a job at the Castle Hotel, in Gardiner Row, in the north inner city of Dublin, just down the street from the headquarters of Sinn Fein.

In her job as a receptionist she got to know senior figures in the party and its armed wing, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), including its then chief of staff, Cathal Goulding, and Joe Cahill from Belfast who would later go on to become a leading figure in the Provisional IRA after 1969, when the 'movement' split into Official and Provisional wings.

Tom Nevin, the eldest of nine children from another farming family, was born in Tynagh, Co Galway, in September 1941. He left school as a teenager to move to Dublin, where he worked as a barman for his uncle, who owned Freehill's pub in Dolphin's Barn. He met June O'Flanagan from Mayo and they married in April 1962 before emigrating to England. They later returned to Ireland, but the marriage didn't work out and was eventually annulled amicably.

Whether Tom met Catherine Nevin at the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, in 1970 or the bar of the Castle Hotel is a matter of conjecture. But the receptionist and the barman eventually began going out together and they were married at a ceremony in Rome in 1976.

Image-conscious Catherine did a number of night courses and embarked on a career as a lecturer in beauty and deportment. She also attempted to start a modelling agency working from their home in Rialto, Dublin. With her encouragement, Tom bought a number of flats off the South Circular Road as investment properties. But she wanted him to have his own pub and eventually they took over the lease of the Barry House in Finglas, which had been closed because of anti-social behaviour.

The new landlord used their 'Republican' connections to restore order in the pub. He sold An Phoblacht on the premises, the clientele included a fair number of local Sinn Fein figures and some of the bouncers had strong Republican credentials. Soon it was running smoothly and they were making good money. But Nevin already had her sights set on owning their own pub in a more salubrious location and with what she believed was a better clientele.

In 1986 they bought Jack White's Inn for £270,000. Situated on what was then the main Dublin to Wexford road at Ballinaparka, it was a well-known stopping off point for travellers between Dublin and the south-east and for holidaymakers in the nearby Wicklow resort of Brittas Bay.

Soon Nevin had installed a hair salon and a good restaurant and used the spare rooms in the large premises for a thriving bed and breakfast business. Her friends from Dublin and local dignitaries mixed at the grand opening. The inn was also known as a 'Garda house' where off-duty (and sometimes on-duty) officers were served, often after hours and sometimes without having to pay for food or alcohol.

She struck up a particular friendship with Inspector Tom Kennedy, an influential member of the gardai who mainly filled in when various superintendents of the Wexford division were absent from their posts.

Staff would later claim that Tom Nevin loathed Inspector Kennedy and Judge Donnchadh O'Buachalla, although 'The Judge' as he was widely known, said he had a good relationship with both of them. He would tell the Central Criminal Court in evidence some years later that Tom Nevin joined him at a family celebration in the pub on the weekend of his death.

On the night of March 18, 1996, a number of the staff, who often slept on the premises when rooms were unoccupied, were going to a dance in Arklow after closing time. As they were about to leave, they were instructed by Catherine Nevin not to come back to the pub. "No one is staying on the premises tonight," she said emphatically.

The following morning when they returned to work they found that Tom Nevin was dead and the pub was a murder scene.

As the investigation into the murder continued, detectives found fragments among Catherine Nevin's documents that would point to three men, all old friends of hers, who would play a pivotal role in the trials that eventually followed.

Gerry Heapes was involved with Sinn Fein and he would later give evidence at her trial that one day she asked him: "Would you be prepared to get rid of him [Tom]? I want him shot dead", telling him that he could have the pub takings in return.

John Jones ran a television sales and repair shop, Channel Vision, in Finglas, which doubled as a Sinn Fein advice centre, where Catherine Nevin was a frequent caller. His partner in the enterprise, Dessie Ellis, is now a Sinn Fein TD. Jones said Catherine Nevin asked him to organise a robbery at Jack White's in the course of which her husband was to be killed.

William 'Willie' McClean met Catherine Nevin in the Red Cow Inn and they became lovers, even though he was also friendly with Tom. In 1990, when she was a patient in St Vincent's Private Hospital, and after their affair had ended, she asked him to visit. In mid-conversation, she said to him: "Get rid of Tom and there's £20,000 in it for you."

Exactly who carried out the robbery and murder of Tom Nevin that St Patrick's Day weekend in 1996 has never been established. The perpetrators were never apprehended and no one but Catherine Nevin has ever been brought to justice for the brutal killing in the kitchen of Jack White's Inn.

At 8.20pm on July 27, 1996, months after the murder, Nevin was arrested at the pub. The media were already there, no doubt after a Garda tip-off. They were also waiting when she was released 60 hours later, without charge. The myth of the Black Widow was already in the making.

The Director of Public Prosecutions ordered Nevin to stand trial for murder and conspiracy to murder her husband. Her trial opened on January 12, 2000. The case attracted so much media interest that after a number of days of complaints about media bias from the defence's legal team, Judge Mella Carroll ordered that "until this trial is finalised, there should be no further comment on Mrs Nevin's dress, hairstyle, nail varnish or reading material. No further photographs are to be published of her until the trial is over."

However it was not the media but someone who overheard the jury discussing the case during a lunch break and informed the judge that led to the trial being aborted on January 26 after the jury had heard more than 50 witnesses. A second jury was then sworn in, but it too was dismissed after one of the jurors, who was pregnant, was adjudged unable to continue for the duration of the trial.

The third and final trial got under way on February 14, 2000. A jury of six men and six women heard 170 witnesses over 61 days of evidence and legal argument.

Both Judge Donnchadh O'Buachalla and Inspector Tom Kennedy denied being Nevin's lovers. "I never stayed overnight in the pub. At no time did I have the keys for it," said the judge.

In the witness box, Nevin claimed she had "a good marriage" but it was sometimes marred by Tom's drinking as he was what she called a "disciplined" alcoholic. She also claimed he was a member of the IRA, much to the astonishment of detectives, who believed she was the one with Sinn Fein/IRA connections.

In the middle of giving evidence, she claimed she came home from court to find an intruder in the house in Mountshannon Road, Dublin, where she was staying and which was part of her husband's property portfolio. The intruder told her she was "naming people she shouldn't" and made her drink a milk-like concoction, which turned out to contain paracetamol. She was treated in St James's Hospital and later resumed her evidence.

"I never at any stage of our married life wanted Tom out of my life, ever. Tom was a big, big part of my married life and he always will be," she told the court. Paddy McEntee SC, the great defence barrister of that era, took three days to sum up the evidence, arguing that the case against her was circumstantial and the character of the three main witnesses for the prosecution was questionable.

He told the jury that relying on their word that she propositioned them to kill Tom Nevin was dangerous, given their own chequered past.

After five days of deliberations (29 hours in all) the jury returned at 6.30 on April 11, 2000 with a verdict. They found Nevin guilty of murdering her husband, and guilty of soliciting Gerry Heapes, John Jones (majority verdict) and Willie McClean (majority verdict) to murder him at various dates between 1989 and 1995.

Judge Mella Carroll told Nevin: "You had your husband assassinated not once, but twice, once in life and in death by assassinating his character."

She was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment.

Nevin then coolly took off the wedding ring she was wearing and handed it to her sister Betty White who, along with her brother Vincent Scully, had sat through one of the most fascinating murder trials in modern Irish history.

A judicial inquiry was later conducted into the behaviour of Judge O'Buachalla, who had transferred the licence for Jack White's Inn from the joint names of Catherine and Tom Nevin in private into her sole name - even though she was facing a murder charge at the time. Judge Frank Murphy concluded that, although these actions were in error, they did not amount to an abuse of legal process. Judge O'Buachalla died on April 22, 2017.

Nevin's appeal against the verdict was dismissed in May 2003 and a number of other appeals followed - none of which was successful. In the meantime, she served her sentence in the women's prison at Mountjoy and later, when granted day-release, enrolled in a course in addiction therapy at Maynooth University.

Jack White's Inn was sold in late 1997 for £620,000. Tom Nevin had not made a will and his mother Nora Nevin, and after her death his brother Patrick and sister Margaret, took High Court proceedings to prevent Catherine Nevin from benefiting financially from the estate. This included the proceeds of the sale of the pub, an estimated £800,000 from other properties, a £78,000 insurance policy and £197,000 in cash.

Catherine Nevin appealed when the High Court found in their favour. Her appeal was dismissed at the Court of Appeal in March 2017. It found that her conviction for murder could be used in civil proceedings intended to disinherit her.

In late 2016 it was reported that Nevin was suffering from a terminal brain tumour and had only months to live.

She was later transferred to a secret location where she died last Monday - a once glamorous but forlorn figure who had aimed so high and seemed convinced that she could get away with murder.

Sunday Independent

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