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Life imitating TV as gang leaders model their tactics on 'The Wire'

Life is imitating art on the streets of Dublin as the new generation of gang leaders model themselves on the Baltimore drug gangs in the hit US detective series, The Wire.

The Wire is highly popular with police around the world and the gardai are no exception. Detectives in Dublin speak with relish about the authenticity of the portrayal of the lives of the homicide department detectives who conduct the wire-tap investigation that is the common thread of the five-part series. They find author David Simon's characterisation of the conniving senior management and the meaningless utterances and daft "anti-crime" policies of the politicians hilarious.

The series is also very popular with Dublin's new generation of gangsters and, according to garda sources, the gangland figure behind a number of recent killings is a massive fan.

One other rising young gang leader on the northside of the city, and maybe others, are modelling themselves on the most ruthless and successful of The Wire's drug gang leaders, Marlo Stanfield.

Stanfield, played with chilling brilliance by Jamie Hector, is the last gang leader left standing when all the others are either murdered or brought down by the detectives. Stanfield relishes the bloody street corner life of Baltimore's drug-infested ghettos. Even when he has made enough money and laundered millions into property through corrupt developers, lawyers and politicians, he still returns to the street corners where he fought his way to the top.

The Finglas/Blanchardstown figure is on his way to becoming Dublin's Marlo Stanfield. His guiding principle is, it seems, just like Marlo's in The Wire, simply to kill anyone who he knows -- or even slightly perceives -- to be a threat to him.

A few years ago he was a minion in the gang led by the equally vicious (and coincidentally nicknamed) Martin 'Marlo' Hyland. Hyland was a brutal street thug and in the last year or so of his life had become paranoid through over-abuse of cocaine. He was becoming a danger to his own people and had ordered a couple of murders of figures who he believed to be either conspiring against him or of informing to gardai. In some instances he may have been right on the latter grounds.

The plot of The Wire and the activities surrounding the Finglas/Blanchardstown gangs bear remarkable similarities. By around 2005, Marlo Hyland had become the biggest gang leader on the northside of the Liffey and had forced his way up by eliminating any perceived opposition. He had forged alliances with gangs on the southside of the city and the Limerick crime families. Their cartel was supplied with drugs, increasingly cocaine and heroin, from the former big gang figures in Dublin now resident in Spain and Holland who had fled there after the murder of Veronica Guerin and the introduction of the Criminal Assets legislation. They had become major traffickers and wholesale suppliers to the Irish and British drugs markets.

The Finglas-based gangs are inherently unstable and tend to have short and brutal lifespans. A series of successes by gardai, seizing drugs worth more than €20m, followed by arrests and seizures of weapons made Hyland's gang even more unstable and he became paranoid to the point of being delusional.

Fearing that Hyland would have them killed, his lieutenant -- now dubbed 'The Don' in newspapers -- teamed up with another of Hyland's lieutenants, Michael 'Roly' Cronin. They enlisted the services of Hyland's two top assassins who, it appears, had also become concerned at Hyland's increasing paranoia.

On the morning of December 12, 2006, the two assassins -- who Hyland had assumed where his protectors -- arrived at his house in Scribblestown Park in Finglas. Hyland was upstairs asleep in bed, his partner having left to take their daughter to school. An innocent young plumber, Anthony Campbell, was carrying out repairs to the central heating system. The gunmen are thought not to have been wearing balaclavas and, believing that Anthony Campbell could identify them, shot him dead as well.

The assassination of Hyland opened the way for 'The Don' and Cronin to seize control of the northside drugs trade and they went about their task with ruthless efficiency, killing a series of opponents and anyone who they felt was in their way.

In the Blanchardstown garda district alone, there are something like 18 unsolved gangland murders, mostly relating to the activities of this emergent gang force.

'The Don' was initially regarded by gardai as a Finglas/Blanchardstown figure only, but shortly before Hyland's murder he was spotted drinking with the 'Fat Freddie' Thompson mob at a pub just outside of Dublin city centre in the south inner city.

Just as in The Wire where Marlo Stanfield is initially off the homicide department's radar, here was an emerging gang figure, both determined and ruthless enough to make his way to the top and more than capable of killing his own former boss.

At one stage it seemed that a body a week was turning up in the gardai's 'K' district, which covers Cabra, Finglas and Ballymun. One garda ruefully suggested that RTE should set up an office in the district as their crime correspondent Paul Reynolds was doing so many pieces to camera at murder scenes.

The list of dead included the maniacal local thug John Daly, fresh out of Portlaoise Prison in August 2007. In his last week in the jail, Daly had made the mistake of ringing RTE's Liveline from a mobile phone in his cell. Daly had caused a sensation when he cursed at the Sunday World's Paul Williams, who was being interviewed by Joe Duffy.

As a result of the publicity over Daly's call from his cell, the prison authorities ordered a clampdown and more than 2,000 mobile phones were seized in prisons. Daly regarded himself as a highly prized member of the gang now run by 'The Don'. He was wrong. The night after he got out of prison he was shot dead in a taxi taking him home from a night of celebration in the city centre. Some of the biggest gangs in the country were baying for blood because their relations and friends in prison had had their phones taken off them. 'The Don' had no option but to offer up the head of his supposed friend and fellow gang member and he did so with typical efficiency.

Another of his killings last year was the assassination of 'Champagne Johnny' Carroll, at a public house in the Coombe on February 18.

By the end of 2008 -- in a turn almost taken from the script of The Wire -- 'The Don' decided he had enough of his erstwhile partner Cronin. The exact reason isn't known. Theories range from suspicion that Cronin was plotting against him to the view that he simply no longer wanted to share any of the drugs profits.

Cronin, 35, along with his driver, James Moloney, 26 (Cronin had earlier lost his licence for traffic offences), were lured to a laneway off Summerhill in the north inner city on the evening of January 7, last year.

They were there to meet someone they apparently trusted, or at least didn't think would kill them. The assassin sat into the back seat of the car and in the type of double cross typical in both real-life and gangster fiction, shot them both dead. The killer tossed the .357 magnum away as he left the scene.

While in The Wire Marlo Stanfield is still alive and back in business when the series ends, life may not imitate art in 'The Don's' case. There are two major investigations targeting him, either of which could see him brought to justice. Both arise from murders he is believed to have ordered.

Sunday Independent