WOUNDED gangster John Gilligan has discharged himself from hospital and fled the country under the cover of darkness.
Spooked after the killing of his driver and bodyguard Stephen 'Dougie' Moran on Saturday, Gilligan was wheeled from Connolly Hospital just before midnight.
Gilligan (61), who led the gang that murdered journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996, was shot numerous times at his brother's house in Clondalkin two weeks ago and has been recovering in hospital since.
It was the second attempt on his life since he was released from a 17-year jail term in Portlaoise Prison last October.
But after Moran's murder, Gilligan moved forward his planned discharge from hospital and organised getting out of the country.
Looking haunted and hunted, Gilligan was gaunt and scared as he was wheeled from the hospital through a back door under the protection of armed gardai.
Wearing a black coat and tracksuit bottoms, a scarf and a flat cap, he had a Dunnes Stores bag of his belongings on his lap as he was helped towards a waiting black Mercedes.
The car then drove to Dublin Port where it boarded the 2.15am ferry to Holyhead.
Garda sources have told the Herald that Moran's killing had a massive effect on Gilligan.
The same gang who twice tried to kill the pint-sized thug are believed to have murdered Moran.
The 46-year-old – who was known as a major underworld 'fixer' – was shot several times at his fortified home in Lucan, west Dublin.
Moran acted as a bodyguard and driver for Gilligan and was drinking with the notorious hood in the Hole In The Wall pub during a botched hit last December.
"The crew who want Gilligan dead simply decided to take out Moran because he has been seen with him so much since Gilligan got out of jail," a source told the Herald.
Moran, who was a major target for the Criminal Assets Bureau, had been driving Gilligan around in a bulletproof 4x4 and had strong links to the Continuity IRA and Limerick's notorious McCarthy-Dundon gang.
Gardai described Saturday night's murder as "extremely well-planned and professional".
It now appears that whoever wants Gilligan dead may have taken Moran out as well to leave the drug trafficker more exposed when he recovers from his injuries.
"One thing is clear, even if Moran's death was not over Gilligan, the feeling in crime circles now is that having anything to do with him is bad news," said the source.
"He has no friends here, and he won't put his family at risk again after being shot at his brother's house.
"He has no option but to flee and he is now a scared little man watching over his shoulder.
"Gilligan wanted to wait out his time in hospital until he could swagger out the door like nothing had happened, but it's a different story now.
"He's like a wounded animal in the wild, and the wolves are on the blood trail."
Gilligan is believed to have a few friends in the UK, but now needs constant care as he is wheelchair-bound after his leg was broken in the last attempt on his life.
"He won't blend in anywhere for a long time to come, so he'll have to stay hidden," said the source.
"And he's not in any position to flee another murder attempt. Gilligan will be keenly aware of how vulnerable he is."
There had also been underworld speculation that Moran was planning to avenge the attempted murder of Gilligan.
CCTV from Moran's home could provide gardai with a breakthrough in the case, which is now the 10th unsolved gangland murder in the Lucan garda district since 2008.