Sunday 24 February 2019

'I am jobless and homeless' - Pete Taylor opens up on tragic shooting at Bray Boxing Club

Pete Taylor wears a wire cast following the shooting at his gym in Bray
Photo: Gerry Mooney
Pete Taylor wears a wire cast following the shooting at his gym in Bray Photo: Gerry Mooney
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

PETE Taylor sits in the lobby of a Dublin hotel, wrestling – he says – with a compound of emotions.

They rise in him with a nagging familiarity now – heartbreak, frustration and, increasingly, deep, deep hurt.

The last can be a strangely disembodied sensation. He senses people staring and can’t help but wonder now what it is they think they see. Just over five weeks after that fatal shooting in Bray, Co Wicklow, his changed circumstance runs far deeper than the bulky, metal cage supporting his left arm.

Taylor describes himself as 'homeless' and 'jobless'. He has been issued with a GIM form by gardaí, warning of a threat against his life.

Reports suggested he was the intended target of the shooting at Bray Boxing Club on June 5, but Taylor insists he was only shot because he ran at the gunman.

People, he senses, are keeping their distance. Concluding that it might not be entirely safe to be seen in his company now.

"People are afraid and I understand that," he says. "You’re like a bad disease to everybody. But they’re afraid because of what they’re reading and the slant being put on it. And what nobody’s saying is I only got shot because I ran at the gunman. The guards will tell you that.

"I was plugging in my phone for the music to start the training session. Everybody was at their stations. And that’s when I heard bang, bang, bang... I had my back to everything and my first thought was it’s one of my air compressors backfiring. That was the kind of noise it was making.

Pete Taylor has said he is struggling in the aftermath of the shooting at his gym in Bray
Photo: Gerry Mooney
Pete Taylor has said he is struggling in the aftermath of the shooting at his gym in Bray Photo: Gerry Mooney

"I actually turned around half in irritation to tell one of the lads to turn off the air compressor. And that’s when I saw the gunman at the door, just shooting randomly. In that first split-second, I thought it was a joke then, suddenly, I saw the fear on everybody’s faces.

"Two girls near me had dived onto the floor. Everybody was running for cover anywhere they could, into the bathrooms, hiding behind machines. I was probably in the safest place in the club because I was behind a big, steel cable machine. But I just ran across the gym at him and he shot at me twice. One missed me, but the second one hit and I ended up on my back."

One of the gym members, Bobby Messett, died from a bullet wound to the head. Another, Ian Britton, sustained two leg wounds. The bullet that hit Taylor shattered his humerus before exiting through his chest, passing within 3mm of his heart. He admits, as he lay on the gym floor, a burning sensation in his chest, he believed he was dying.

He has requested this meeting because of what he interprets as an implicit insinuation in much of the media coverage since.

Taylor remains completely baffled by the shooting. If he’d been the target, why would the gunman have waited until the gym was full of people before striking? Taylor’s schedule meant he arrived alone at 6.45am every day to open up the club. His car is a white Ford Mustang. As a potential assassination hit, he would have been an uncomplicated target.

"I’m completely confused by it," he stresses. "I’ve never been involved in criminal activity. The guards have said it. They’ve got my phone going back to 2009, they’ve got my laptop, they’ve searched the club, gone through the GPS in my car.

Pete Taylor and partner Karen Brown pictured in Belfast after the shooting
Pete Taylor and partner Karen Brown pictured in Belfast after the shooting

"Like if I thought there was the tiniest danger to anyone in the club, do you think I’d have been turning up at quarter to seven every morning? Heading down there in complete darkness in the winter? Leaving the door open during training? No cameras in the building?

"I had the exact same routine every day. If anybody was watching me, I was an open book."

In the weeks after his release from St Vincent’s Hospital, some media sources suggested he had 'fled' the country. The truth, he insists, was more humdrum.

First, he and partner, Karen Brown, flew to Poland for a second opinion on his injured arm, then decided to go through with a holiday in the Greek islands they’d booked around six months before the shooting. After that? The landlord of the house they’d moved into in Bray last December had indicated that neighbours were now fearful.

Taylor says they understood fully, moving out immediately. And, with nowhere now to call home, they spent the next couple of weeks in the UK.

Pete Taylor (left) was injured in the attack, while innocent grandfather Bobby Messett (50) was killed in the shooting
Pete Taylor (left) was injured in the attack, while innocent grandfather Bobby Messett (50) was killed in the shooting

Theories as to why the club might have been targeted don’t, he believes, hold any water. He hasn’t worked as a bouncer on nightclub doors since 2008 or 2009. He has, he insists, never been a debt-collector.

"The guards asked me that!" he reflects. "My response was Imagine me going to somebody’s house and going 'You owe so-and-so money!' It’d be in the papers the next day. It’d be all over social media. Pete Taylor called to my door!'"

He is aware too of speculation linking the shooting to the fact that Taylor has been training four professional boxers from the MTK Global Boxing Promotions Company, an organisation previously linked with Daniel Kinahan.

But, again, he is unconvinced by the connection, insisting he has zero contact with MTK.

"I don’t know how many boxers MTK have, 130 maybe?" he says.

"So is every coach of all those boxers in danger? I’m not the only coach in Ireland even training boxers from that stable. It doesn’t really hold up to me. Boxing is my passion, but you wouldn’t bother doing it if it was just for the money. Because you don’t make money out of it.

"The deal I have is that I get 10pc of my fighters’ purses. My fighters’ purses are mediocre. Some might get €1,500 for a fight. I’ll have trained them for 12 weeks going into that fight. I make my income out of personal training, not boxing."

As to the suggestion made in some quarters that he might be the recipient of a monthly cheque from MTK?

"I’ve never had any dealings with MTK, I don’t know anybody in MTK. I don’t even get a text from MTK. I’m a freelance boxing coach, I just deal with the match-maker. David Oliver Joyce came back from the Rio Olympics and rang me. I used do a lot with him in the High Performance and took it as a huge compliment that, of all the coaches in the country, he looked for me to coach him.

Katie with dad Pete in the early days of her career
Katie with dad Pete in the early days of her career

"I didn’t for one second think 'Ah Jesus, you’re with MTK, I’m not going to train you!' All the boxers approached me individually."

Still deeply shocked over the innocent death of his friend Messett, Taylor says the decision of Wicklow County Council to change the locks on the club while he was in hospital 'is a legal issue now'. He has been training boxers of all ages and standards in the club since 1995, not least guiding his own daughter, Katie, to Olympic gold in 2012.

The club, he says, has prevented many young people in the area from 'going down the wrong road' and argues "it was built for Bray Boxing Club and there’s over a hundred members. They wouldn’t just have been clients, they’d have been friends and everyone’s distraught over this".

"But we’ve made clear to the council that we have a management team in place. What the council has done is actually illegal."

As to his own future, Taylor sees few certainties. Recent job offers from the US and Tunisia have been rescinded and, in the short term, "it’s hard to be a one-handed coach and you can’t be a one-handed electrician either, can you?"

"I don’t know if I can ever get back to normality in this country. Even if they find out who the killer is tomorrow and he says it was all a mistake, it’s never going to be the same again."

Does he feel safe? "I don’t feel safe because I don’t know what’s going on," he says.

"I’m still nervous walking around. If a motorbike comes up beside me...you just don’t know. If I did know what this was all about, it would almost be a relief. I’m completely at a loss here. I can’t stress that enough."

Irish Independent

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