Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 15 March 2001 14.05 GMT
John Gilligan was today cleared at Dublin's special criminal court of ordering the murder of Irish investigative journalist Veronica Guerin.
Gilligan, 48, was also cleared of four charges of possessing firearms and ammunition but was found guilty of 11 charges of importing cannabis resin into Ireland.
Judge Diarmuid O'Donovan told the packed non-jury court that he had "grave suspicions" about Gilligan's involvement in the 1996 shooting of Guerin, 37, who had received death threats after exposing Dublin's drugs gangs.
But the judge said the uncorroborated evidence of Gilligan's former criminal associates was not enough to convict him. Gilligan was extradited from England to face trial.
Ms Guerin, a crime reporter with the Sunday Independent newspaper, was shot six times as she sat in her car on the outskirts of Dublin on June 26, 1996. Her death sparked public outrage and one of the biggest murder investigations in the history of the state.
Two men, Paul Ward and Brian Meehan, are currently serving life sentences following their convictions for her murder in 1998 and 1999 respectively. The prosecution alleged that the pair acted under the "control and command" of Gilligan.
Three former criminal associates of Gilligan, all now serving time in jail while under the state's witness protection programme, gave evidence against him during the course of his 43-day trial.
Judge O'Donovan said while there was independent evidence to corroborate the allegation that Gilligan was the "prime mover" in a massive drug importation racket, he must be acquitted on the separate weapons-related charge and the most serious offence of murder.
The judge told the court that despite his suspicions of Gilligan's role in the murder: "The court is not persuaded beyond reasonable doubt that this is so. And therefore the court is required by law to acquit the accused on that charge."
Terence McDonald, defending, described Russell Warren's account of witnessing the murder of the journalist as "a complete fabrication". Mr McDonald said that Warren, currently serving five years for money laundering and for stealing the motorbike used in Ms Guerin's shooting, must be treated "potentially as an accomplice in the murder of Veronica Guerin".
Judge O'Donovan said in delivering the court's verdict: "It is the view of the court that the only evidence which was heard that could possibly implicate (Gilligan) in the murder of Veronica Guerin was that of Russell Warren.
"His evidence is so suspect that the interests of justice demand that it not be relied upon except when corroborated by independent evidence." There was, however, "no corroboration whatsoever".