Friday 24 May 2019

Gilligan returns, now just a trivial figure in a very changed landscape

As John Gilligan, the man who ordered the hit on Veronica Guerin, is released this week, Jim Cusack charts what became of his gang

Veronica Guerin: The journalist's murder prompted CAB legislation that has made it a lot harder for criminals to hang on to the proceeds of their crimes. Photo: Brian Farrell
Veronica Guerin: The journalist's murder prompted CAB legislation that has made it a lot harder for criminals to hang on to the proceeds of their crimes. Photo: Brian Farrell

Jim Cusack

JOHN Gilligan has cost Irish criminals almost a quarter of a billion euro, seized since the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) was set up in the aftermath of the murder of Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin.

Since he last experienced freedom on the afternoon of October 8, 1996, at Heathrow Airport, John Gilligan, 61, has lost not only his own fortune but also the fortunes of major criminals across Europe.

The Proceeds of Crime Act, enacted in the same month that he was arrested, has led to the seizure here of more than €100m in interlocutory orders and €150m in tax orders.

The Irish legislation was copied and introduced by the UK, then other EU countries. By next year, under directions from Brussels, all EU countries will have the same legislation that was prompted by the murder of the Sunday Independent journalist.

Spain adopted the legislation four years ago and one of its first major moves was to seize the assets empire built up by the Irish criminal boss Christy Kinahan. The Spanish authorities put Kinahan's property and cash assets at half a billion euro at the time of his arrest in May 2010.

Kinahan – who joined the flight of criminals from Ireland after the CAB was set up – was very unlikely to welcome Gilligan if he decided to leave Ireland for his old haunts in the Costa del Sol, gardai said last week. Up until the Spanish police seized Kinahan's assets, he could well have tolerated Gilligan's presence.

Gilligan's lieutenant, Peter "Fatso" Mitchell, was living in considerable comfort and running a bar in Marbella and would have had a place for his old boss. But he fled after he survived a murder attempt when he was shot four times at his villa in August 2008. Mitchell was Gilligan's last surviving gang member with any significant wealth, but he is now living in much reduced circumstances in Holland, according to gardai.

Gilligan's adviser and confidante, John Traynor, is living in a modest house in a seaside town in Kent since being released last year after serving a jail term in England. Traynor, 65, summed up the views of many other criminals in an interview with the Sunday World newspaper in May this year when he said: "When John Gilligan organised that murder he f**ked everything up for us all. The minute it happened I knew my life was over."

Traynor lives a quiet life, having suffered a heart attack while in jail in England and undergone a triple bypass operation.

In one of his many court appeals Gilligan, in turn, blamed Traynor for what befell him and his gang.

None of Gilligan's associates has fared well since the June 1996 murder. Paul "Hippo" Ward was tried and convicted of the murder, but later cleared on appeal. However, he received a 12-year sentence for his part in a siege in Mountjoy Prison in January 1997 in which prison officers were held hostage and badly injured. Ward, 49, was released in 2005 and now buys and sells second-hand cars.

Patrick Eugene "Dutchy" Holland, the pillion passenger gunman who shot Veronica dead at Newlands Cross, died in Parkhurst Prison in England. He was acquitted of murdering Veronica but was sentenced to 12 years in prison for possession of cannabis at the gang's warehouse in Greenmount in west Dublin. He was released in May 2007 and returned to a life of crime in London.

He was arrested along with three other minor criminals by Metropolitan Police officers for his part in a conspiracy to kidnap a businessman, and sentenced to eight years. He was found dead in his cell from a heart attack in June 2009.

The only man serving life for Veronica's murder is Brian Meehan, now aged 48, who remains in Portlaoise Prison having failed in several attempts to appeal his conviction. Meehan was the driver of the motorcycle that pulled alongside Veronica's car, allowing Dutchy Holland to fire repeatedly at her as she talked on her mobile phone to a garda contact.

Nothing is known of the three gang members who agreed to testify as State witnesses against the others in return for immunity and new identities and lives abroad under the garda witness protection scheme.

Russell Warren, the gang's 'bag man', is now 49. He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 1997 for laundering £2.7m of Gilligan's drug money, and released in 2001. He testified to helping Meehan and Holland on the day of the murder, following Veronica from Naas Court House and guiding the two assassins with repeated mobile phone calls.

John Dunne, now 55, the Cork shipping clerk who handled the arrival of Gilligan's drugs, received a three-year sentence in 1999 for possession. He too gave vital testimony on which the drug charges were proved.

Charlie Bowden, 49, the ex-Irish Army soldier and armourer for the gang, received a six-year sentence for possession of firearms and drugs. He was granted immunity from a murder charge after testifying to preparing and handing over the Magnum revolver used in the murder. He too was taken into hiding abroad.

Gilligan's wife, Geraldine, finally lost possession of the 50-acre grounds of Jessbrook, the equestrian centre that Gilligan built at Mucklon, Co Kildare, two years ago but was allowed to retain the large bungalow that they built in the grounds as a family residence. Once valued at more than €5m, the centre was put on the market with a reserve price of €500,000. Eight people have bid for the property, all under the asking price, and it has yet to sell. Geraldine mainly lives in Spain where she and her daughter, Tracey, run a pub in Alicante.

Gilligan's young mistress at the time of the murder is living in Australia. She was only 18 at the time their affair began. On the day of the murder she was with him in the Hilton Hotel at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport. The following day they moved to a house Gilligan had rented in Belgium. Belgian police check on all foreign nationals renting property, and a policeman called to the house checking on their identities. This caused Gilligan to become paranoid that the police were on to him, and he bought the girl a plane ticket to Australia and gave her money to start a new life. She subsequently confessed to her new boyfriend, and he passed on the information which was relayed back to the garda investigation team. She returned to Ireland and made a statement about the conversations Gilligan had with the other gang members as the murder took place. However, after making her statement she left for Australia again and never returned.

Gilligan is unreconstructed and unapologetic. Last week he sent a letter, via a solicitor, to the Irish Independent saying he would not be speaking to the media "for one million euro".

It was his way, gardai believe, of taunting the newspaper group that Veronica worked for.

Gardai believe he intends using his freedom to continue mocking her memory, but, one said, he will not be able to return to organised crime and will have to keep looking over his shoulder. He was unpopular among other criminals even before he brought the weight of the State down on organised crime. The country's main criminals were forced into exile to protect their assets. Several prospered abroad but lamented the fact they could not return home to live in Ireland because of the CAB laws.

John Traynor, in his interview, said he could never return to Ireland as he would be jailed for tax evasion. The figures who remained in Ireland and have had assets seized have reason to deeply resent Gilligan's murderous venture in assassinating Veronica Guerin.

Gardai also pointed out that since Gilligan's capture by British Customs and his subsequent extradition to stand trial in Ireland, the organised crime scene in Ireland has been utterly transformed – for the worse. Criminals can no longer have ostentatious lifestyles in Ireland. None of the new generation of gang leaders in Dublin knows anything about Gilligan other than what they may have read in papers or the several books written about him. There were few guns around the criminal underworld when Gilligan was last in business, but there has been an arms proliferation since. Dutchy Holland was paid in drugs to the value of at least €50,000 to murder Veronica Guerin. Now, a Dublin detective pointed out last week, a murder can be commissioned to cover a drug debt of only a few thousand euro.

Gilligan has no known powerful protectors in Dublin, and no gang. Like others of his generation, he may expect to be little more than a marginal, if notorious, figure.

Sunday Independent

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