DICK Fallon was in the back of a squad car -- getting a lift from two garda colleagues after finishing his shift -- when the call came in.
The phone and alarm lines at the Royal Bank of Ireland at Arran Quay in Dublin had been cut, and garda command and control ordered all available units to the scene, suspecting rightly that an armed robbery was in progress.
It was 10.45am on April 3, 1970. Within minutes Garda Fallon would be shot dead, a new crime group would have made themselves public enemy number one, and an arms conspiracy linked to government minister Charles Haughey would have claimed its first victim.
The gang were Saor Eire, a mixed bag of disillusioned republicans and hardened non-political prisoners.
As crime reporter Paul Williams writes in his new book, Badfellas, the group, which had emerged just three years earlier, were a new force in the underworld.
"Their jobs were meticulously planned and executed with a ruthless efficiency and military precision," he writes.
The unarmed Garda Fallon encountered the full and brutal force of their 'precision' on that spring morning. Along with a colleague, Garda Paul Firth, Fallon chased the three-man gang as they emerged from the front of the bank. Williams writes: "When the raiders saw the uniformed guards they made a dash for their getaway car.
"One of the raiders shot Dick Fallon in the arm, but he kept going. As they rounded the corner on to a side passageway, he grappled with one of the raiders and another shot rang out.
"A second gang member doubled back and shot the officer in the head at close range. Dick Fallon fell face down on the concrete pavement as the raiders ran to the waiting getaway car. He died as his colleague whispered a prayer in his ear."
The garda was the first officer to be murdered in the line of duty since 1942. The Saor Eire gangsters who carried out the robbery escaped with £3,270. Retired Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey was one of the officers who arrived at the bank when the call went out that a colleague had been shot. He said afterwards: "It was hard to believe what had happened. We were at the scene very quickly and there was shock, there was horror, it was unprecedented. It certainly was a watershed as far as policing in this country was concerned.
"It would be fair to say that nothing would be the same again. Armed crime and murder and shootings would become so commonplace."
The shock of the killing also led to an unprecedented display of public anger and grief. "The Government hadn't organised a State funeral but on Monday, April 6, Dublin came to a standstill as people turned out to honour the fallen policeman.
"Thousands left their homes, schools and workplaces to pay their respects along the route, as the funeral cortege slowly made its way across the city," Williams writes. "A solemn silence fell over the city as the hearse passed the GPO."
But as the shock subsided, dark rumours began to circulate about where Saor Eire sourced their firearms, and whispers emerged that the group were training at a Wicklow camp, which had never been raided. The gun conspiracy could be traced back to the previous year when Saor Eire took delivery of a consignment of 0.22 Star pistols which had been stolen from the Parker-Hale munitions factory in Birmingham.
These guns were sourced by Dublin criminal Christy 'Bronco' Dunne, who arranged to supply them to two senior Saor Eire figures, Liam Walsh and Martin Casey. But government papers released 30 years after the incident claimed that government ministers had knowledge of the gun plot. The Irish Government had a plan, as the Troubles erupted in the North, to foment a split within the IRA. Finance Minister Charles Haughey was given £100,000 in cash to supply one side of the republican movement with arms, at the expense of the other.
Agriculture Minister Neil Blaney was to assist him with the plan.
Williams writes: "Neil Blaney was a friend of Liam Walsh, who provided the channel into Saor Eire. A document written by Peter Berry, the Secretary of the Department of Justice at the time, noted he had received reliable information that Jock Haughey, Charles Haughey's brother, had travelled to London with Martin Casey, in November 1969, for the purpose of buying the arms from the Parker-Hale armoury.
"It named both Saor Eire's Martin Casey and Christy Dunne as being centrally involved in the operation. The memo went on to claim that Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney had full knowledge of the gun-running expedition."
It was no secret that many gardai were extremely frustrated by what they saw as a connection between the corridors of power and a gang they regarded as street thugs masquerading under a socialist mantra. Just two months before Garda Fallon was shot, Saor Eire had carried out a bank raid in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, after which gardai planned a major swoop on the Saor Eire's members.
Williams writes: "At the last moment, however, the operation was called off by someone in higher authority. No explanation was given and it further fuelled rumours of an unholy alliance between the men in the combat fatigues and those in suits."
Weeks later Garda Dick Fallon was shot dead. Final proof for many of the suspected connections between politicians involved in gun plots and garda-killing street thugs came with the forensic examination of the bullets that killed the garda.
The fatal rounds were found to have been fired by a 0.22 Star pistol -- one of the batch stolen in Birmingham.