Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Gangland shooting terrorises Dublin suburb

When a local criminal was found dead, residents in Blanchardstown thought it would end the fear on their streets ... but they were wrong
Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 November 2004 00.03 GMT
It is known as Ireland's silicon valley, the heartland of a computer industry that fuelled the Celtic Tiger, bringing vast shopping centres and apartment blocks for yuppies. But north-west Dublin's violent underbelly is threatening to erupt after a weekend of gangland violence on its working-class estates saw one man shot dead in front of his baby and two men treated in hospital after drive-by shootings.
When one of Ireland's most notorious young criminals, a man with one kidney and a chronic cocaine habit, was found dead in a Dublin prison cell 10 days ago, it appeared to spark a wave of violence.
Armed police patrols were stepped up yesterday in an attempt to target 12 local gangland figures and avert further bloodshed in the run-up to Christmas.
Blanchardstown is a new town of 70,000 which has grown fast and nudges up against the northern Dublin borough of Finglas. Both have a brutal gangland history.
John Gilligan - acquittted of ordering the murder of the journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996 - comes from a local estate. He is serving 28 years for drugs offences.
The Westies, one of the most dangerous of Dublin's organised crime gangs, dominated the local heroin trade in the 90s and still operate. But in an area where some children drop out of school at 11, the gangsters are becoming younger and better armed, with sawn-off shotguns sometimes handed to teenagers. One Dublin newspaper described the new gangs as "mini-armies".
One of the leading younger hard men was a figure worthy of one of Ireland's best gangster biopics. Declan Curran was a local drug addict and teenage car thief. By 24, he was linked to violent bank robberies, assaults, drive-by shootings and gangland executions.
He had worn a colostomy bag since 19 when he was shot in the back and lost a kidney fleeing a gunman during a feud. But he refused to let it hold him back. He took steroids to pump himself up and was addicted to cocaine.
As his mood swung violently, he seemed to display an almost suicidal recklessness. He once drove at 100mph on the wrong side of the road while high on drugs and alcohol to avoid a police car he later crashed into. A murder trial against him collapsed last year after the suspected intimidation of a key witness, his ex-girlfriend. Despite his crimes, he did not make much money and still lived with his family, where police once arrested him wearing a bullet-proof vest in bed.
When Curran was recently found dead in a prison cell in Dublin, residents in Blanchardstown and Finglas thought it would end the fear on their streets. But they were wrong.
Curran had been remanded in Cloverhill prison after he botched an armed raid on a Dublin bank. Two days later, his body was found by two cellmates who had returned from Sunday mass. The post mortem examination was inconclusive and the results of toxicology tests are awaited.
Almost as if to say he was gone but not forgotten, hours after Curran's death, some of his associates attacked the house of a family with whom he had been engaged in a feud, shooting and injuring one man.
This weekend, the violence worsened. In the early hours of Sunday, Paul Cunningham, 23, was asleep in an upstairs room in a house in Blanchardstown with his girlfriend and their 18-month-old baby. Two men in balaclavas and gloves burst in and shot him dead. A police inspector yesterday called it "a horrendous killing", the latest in a series of incidents causing "serious concern".
Cunningham was the third son in his family of eight to meet a violent death. He had his own underworld connections and 20 previous convictions, including firearms offences. Police said they were not ruling out the possibility of a revenge killing against Curran's side.
Local residents said yesterday they were afraid. Joan Burton, the Labour MP for Dublin West, criticised the lack of community police. "Of course, I am worried this is going to escalate, everybody is," she said.
"A lot families here have been bereaved for Christmas. Already this month we had the fatal stabbing in a bar of a man who had no connection to crime. People are fearful, particularly the innocent people who could get caught up in this."

Sunday, 21 November 2004

First of the gang to die

Sunday Tribune

No-one save closest family will mourn the passing of Declan Curran, a trigger-happy thug with little regard for human life
John Burke and Eoghan Rice
WHEN the heavily armed garda unit burst open Declan Curran's bedroom door they found him lying in his bed wearing a bullet-proof jacket.

Curran was expecting trouble that November day in 2003, but not necessarily from the gardai. Just 23 years of age at the time of his arrest, the Dubliner had already carved out a name for himself as an armed robber, a violently unstable cocaine addict, a hater of gardai and killer.

He was a man with enemies.

Gardai last week found it difficult to mourn the passing of a young man who had ruled his own personal fiefdom around his native Cardiffsbridge Avenue in Finglas with a frightening measure of wickedness and efficiency.

Toxicology reports are still awaited to determine why the 24-year-old died in his cell in Cloverhill prison last weekend, post mortem results having proved inconclusive. But his death, just two days after being arrested for an attempted robbery on a TSB branch in Sutton, came too late for some.

Willie O'Regan (33) had the misfortune of dating Curran's ex-girlfriend. Bitterly jealous, Curran challenged him to a fist fight, but lost. Without a gun he wasn't much of a fighter. Revenge was swift. A fortnight later, on 10 June 2003, two gunmen kicked in the door to O'Regan's flat on the New Cabra Road . . . amputating his right hand at the wrist with one of the seven shots fired after surprising the victim as he sat watching television in his flat.

When gardai arrested Curran for the murder in November 2003, they thought they had got their man. Curran's ex-girlfriend signed two statements stating that he had told her he was going to kill O'Regan, and then showed her the "little gold bullets".

But her garda protection proved inadequate and her home was broken into by two armed men. She denied they threatened her not to give evidence but when the case came before the Central Criminal Court in June of this year, she withdrew her allegations.

Curran was known to gardai in Finglas and Blanchardstown from an early age. At 16 he was a regular cocaine user. By age 18, he was a chronic addict. He was arrested over a dozen times in his late teens for vehicle theft, assault and damage to property.

One retired senior garda recalls Curran as a teenager who had a brazen lack of fear for gardai or anyone else. "He was tough as iron and very determined. There was a stong feeling that he was going to be more difficult to handle than most of his contempories by the time he got older and more established."

But at 19-years-old, Curran was dealt a blow that stalled his criminal exploits, even if it didn't end them. He came into dispute with a wellknown family of criminals in the west Dublin area.

Informed sources suggest the row was about money owed for a gun.

The dispute became bitter, and Curran was ambushed by a gunman outside his home. He was shot in the back as he fled the assassin.

He lost a kidney and spent the remainder of his short life wearing a colostomy bag.

By then, he was known to be a member of one of the toughest gangs of armed robbers in west Dublin, who rivalled the likes of the Westies in ruthlessness. Curran's cocaine habit continued to spiral and he began taking steroids which swelled his physique although he remained in uneven health for the following five years.

A three-year sentence in 2001 for ramming a garda car while under the influence of drink and drugs had done little to discourage his criminality. Before gardai nabbed him at Ashbourne he was doing 100mph on the wrong side of the road.

Garda sources described Curran as untypically brutal, even for a thug, and lacking even a basic regard for human life. But experienced gardai say that his story is most significant insofar as he was one of a new breed of young gangsters who rose to prominence at a time when the availability of illegal guns turned bands of petty thugs into mini-armies.

It was this level of access to weapons . . . mostly sawn-off shotguns . . . which allowed Curran and his criminal crew to carry out an inestimable number of raids on banks and credit unions over the past five years. It allowed them to spread their influence by giving guns to youths as young as 15 to enforce their own bailiwick in west Finglas, terrorising the local community into silence in sight of their transgressions.

In addition to killing O'Regan, Curran was connected to two other murders. On 9 October 2003, the body of father of three Peter Sheridan (27) was found dumped at Scribblestown lane in Finglas. He had been hooded and shot in the head. Information since given to investigating gardai suggests that Curran feared that Sheridan was about to inform on his criminal activities.

Two months earlier, the remains of Victor Murphy of Deanstown Green, Finglas, were found at Dunsink Lane.

Wounds to the lower body indicated to investigating gardai that the victim had been travelling in a car when a gun went off accidentally.

Garda intelligence suggests that Murphy believed he was on his way to "do a job" along with Curran but gardai suspect it was Curran's intention to murder him at a remote location.

Murphy had been friends with Curran's older brother, who had died in a car accident 15 years before. Curran had no regard for sentiment and informed sources said Curran would have felt that Murphy had become a liability.

Those who work in the Finglas community have also found it difficult to mourn Curran's passing. As one community worker told the Sunday Tribune: "He was known as someone who would shoot you for looking at him the wrong way. It didn't matter who you were, Curran wasn't afraid of anyone."

It was initially feared that Curran's departure would start a bloody war. Within 18 hours of his death, Curran's gang attempted to kill a man closely connected to the family who ordered Curran to be shot in 1999. But, long term, his departure is likely to pacify the area rather than lead to increased conflict.

Curran was by no means the only violent and heavily armed thug in west Dublin.

But for many ordinary decent people who lived amid the terror that Curran wrought by armed intimidation, his departure will allow them to enjoy a sense of calm they haven't known for quite some time.
November 21, 2004

Sunday, 12 September 2004

Drug gangs rampant in top Dublin youth jail

Juveniles smuggle eggs packed with heroin past guards
Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
The Observer, Sunday 12 September 2004 01.32 BST
Ireland's largest young offenders' centre is awash with drugs, plagued by gang culture and breaking numerous UN and EU conventions over the jailing of juveniles alongside adults, according to relatives of prison officers who work at St Patrick's Institution in Dublin.
They claim that chronic understaffing and low morale have led to:
• A drug culture supported by ingenious methods of delivery, including eggs containing heroin and hashish.
• No patrols of exterior walls while drug dealers' runners on the outside openly hurl the narcotics into the exercise yard.
• Workshops being closed.
• Juveniles held alongside adults in breach of EU and UN treaties on children's rights.
• Rival gangs clashing on the wings and in the exercise yard.
The Observer met the main spokeswoman for the officers' relatives, the wife of a prison officer with nearly 25 years of service in youth detention.
She said the officers were too frightened to speak themselves as they feared they could lose their jobs, face fines or even imprisonment under the Department of Justice's news rules barring state servants such as Garda officers from speaking to the media.
On security, she said that drug runners are openly throwing drugs over the exterior wall beside the Royal Canal: 'There are no officers with dogs patrolling around the walls. The drug dealers' runners aren't even worried about the CCTV cameras looking down on the raised ground where they throw the drugs over. They wear baseball caps and scarves over their faces when they do it, some of them don't even bother covering their faces up, they are so brazen.'
The officers have noticed a new method to deliver drugs to the young offenders on the other side of the wall - eggs.
'The dealers cut an egg at the top, place heroin or hash in tin foil or plastic and drop it into the egg. Then they seal it up and tie it with twine to a stone. They are then thrown on to the net. The egg cracks and the wrap falls out with the yolk. It either falls onto the ground or the young offenders distract prison officers and others form a pyramid until one of them can get to the net and take the drugs off it.'
The relatives of the prison officers said that during exercise time there are only five staff to watch 70 to 80 young inmates. The prisoners use mobile phones smuggled into St Patrick's to text their dealers on the outside.
The new €25,000 net was installed to replace nets that were unable to stop tennis and golf balls containing drug wraps falling onto the yard.
Founded in 1858 and situated beside Mountjoy Jail, St Patrick's currently holds 170 inmates aged 16 to 21 who are serving a range of sentences up to life.
Through their relatives, the officers also claimed that a €12 million school built beside the north Dublin complex, which the inmates were to attend, has been closed for 18 months because of staff shortages.
'The school has a big gym and gym hall, changing rooms and state-of-the-art facilities and it is all lying empty. There is even a gym teacher who has been on the payroll for a year and a half without teaching any of the inmates.
'The metal and woodwork workshops have been closed because there are not enough officers to secure the units. There is some education but not much; most of the young offenders' spare time is taken up with passive activities such as watching videos in the library or TV in their cells,' the officers' spokeswoman said.
Their claim that housing juvenile offenders (those aged 16 to 18) alongside 19 to 21-year-olds breaches EU and UN conventions on children's rights was backed up yesterday by one of Ireland's leading human rights experts.
Ivana Bacik, a law lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, said that holding juveniles and adults together breached Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Children's Rights.
An Irish Prison Service spokesman confirmed that juveniles were incarcerated at St Patrick's with adults but that under the 1999 Children Act there were plans to separate the two age groups. He also said that there were at least two incidents where drugs came over the exterior wall inside eggs and that a workshop was closed due to financial reasons.
He denied the officers' claims that drugs were widely available and that mobile phones had been smuggled into St Patrick's. He also denied lack of staff has resulted in security breaches at St Patrick's.
'Over 400 prisoners have used our drug-free wing of St Patrick's, which has been highly successful. Indeed there have been comments from drug users sent to St Patrick's describing their time there as like undergoing cold turkey. There are also random searches of prisoners following visits,' he said.
He said the prison service did not patrol the exterior walls, as this was the remit of the Garda Siochana.

Sunday, 16 May 2004

The coast is clear for drug smugglers

Sunday Tribune

John Burke
Ireland's coastline is vulnerable. With the second largest maritime area in the EU, the resources available for patrolling these waters by the authorities is relatively minuscule.

Experts say that the equivalent on land would be two garda cars for the entire country.

This lack of capacity in the naval service ? and the lack of will at government level to address the situation ? has not gone unnoticed. Expatriate Irish criminals, and the increasing number of ethnic gangs to which they are allied, have realised that the lonely waters off the Irish coast and many secluded bays and inlets in the south and west offer a perfect transit point to bring cannabis, heroin and other drugs into the state and from there to mainland Europe.

Last week's seizure of precursor chemicals with a potential street value of .500m at a Walkinstown warehouse is just the latest sign that Ireland is increasingly seen as a soft target for the transit of illegal drugs.

Figures for seizures of illegal drugs indicate increased activity by smugglers. Last year, gardaí and customs seized over .100m worth of illicit drugs entering the state ? virtually double the amount for 2002.

While gardaí have always said it is impossible to value the illegal drugs trade accurately here, international experts estimate that national law enforcement agencies intercept about one-tenth of domestic drugs traffic.

In 2002, this calculation would have valued the illicit drugs trade here at around .500m. Last year, that value had spectacularly doubled to .1bn. Last week's seizure has seen the figure increase fivefold in the first six months of 2004.

Michael Colgan, director of the Customs National Drugs Team (CNDT), who was central to last week's success, said intelligence available to his agency ? and supported by arrest figures in relation to trafficking offences ? indicate that West African gang members are becoming strongly established in the Irish drugs trade, creating a new dynamic for law enforcement bodies.

There is also growing evidence that Chinese Triad gangs based in Ireland and the UK are rapidly becoming the leading criminal gangs directing drugs trafficking.

Gardaí reluctantly admit that they know far less about the activities of the Chinese Triads than about other European criminals.

Garda sources say it is believed that at least three Triad factions are operating in Dublin at present, and are heavily involved in running brothels, in addition to their involvement in trafficking drugs to and from the UK and China.

"Both intelligence information and statistical data show that a new phenomenon is emerging that suggests drugs gangs are becoming increasingly globalised. This presents significant new challenges for us, " Colgan said. "In terms of defending our coast against illegal drugs trafficking, we started from a position of high risk due to the size of our coastline." The precursor chemicals found by gardaí last week had the capacity to manufacture 50 million ecstacy tablets, worth half-a-billion euro on the street, and .37.5m worth of amphetamines. Garda sources said the drugs were possibly diverted here after significant success by Dutch customs in seizing large volumes of precursor chemicals.

Last week's seizure, while successful from an intervention perspective, suggests a worrying prospect for law enforcement agencies here ? the paucity of information on the movements of emerging non-national gangs combined with the influence of Irish criminals on the continent.

One senior garda at the national bureau of criminal investigation (NBCI) said it was proving increasingly difficult to build up effective intelligence against suspected non-national criminals.

"Obtaining information on non-national criminal gangs based here is a new phenomenon. We are reliant on information from other EU police bodies who can point to the movement of someone into the state, " he said.

However, there is increasing intelligence indicating the route that drugs entering the state are taking. Heroin, originating primarily in Afghanistan, is being trafficked via Turkey, and from there on to Holland or the UK for laboratory processing.

The bulk of cannabis originates in north Africa and is trafficked into Spain from where, like heroin, it reaches Ireland at the end of a long international chain.

Ecstasy, on the other hand is primarily trafficked from China and the Orient and then channelled through Ireland into the UK, where it will be processed before some of the consignment is sent back here for sale.

"What we have is a large number of expatriate Irish criminals, most of whom fled here after the excellent work done by the criminal assets bureau (CAB). Irish criminals based in the Netherlands and Spain are now heavily involved in trafficking drugs back into Ireland, and have extensive local knowledge to aid their criminal efforts, " Colgan said.

The growing incidence of drug trafficking on Irish shores is worrying, but hardly new. As long ago as 1994, it emerged in evidence given by the naval service at a major drugs trial that traffickers were 20 times more likely to enter Europe by transiting through Irish waters.

The eight-vessel naval service fleet, charged with protecting the country's 2,700-mile coastline, is ageing.

Only two new ships have been commissioned in recent years.

Surrounded by Europe's second-largest maritime area, Ireland's patrol capability has been described as the landbased equivalent of around two garda cars for the whole island.

It is unknown whether international drug barons read government white papers but, if they do, many will read with interest the white paper on defence. The 2001 white paper acknowledged, in paragraph 2.3.10, that the "single most important area of externally based crime arises from drug trafficking", but crucially stated that this is primarily a policing issue.

Naval service sources said this lack of state investment in capacity for patrolling Irish waters against illegal drugs shipments means that two to three vessels are on deployment at crucial times.

In coming weeks, the CNDT will acquire its first sea-going vessel, in response to the use of the south coast as a gateway for criminals bringing drugs into the country. The 21-metre boat has a capacity for a crew of eight.

Colgan admits it cannot compare with the vessels at the disposal of the naval service, but said that its brief does not prioritise patrols against drug shipments.

"The naval service is stretched very far and we need a boat of our own. Kinsale is notoriously unprotected and this is something we cannot leave unaddressed. In terms of a reliable and dedicated antidrugs fleet, we're starting out as an acorn and hopefully we'll become a tree, " Colgan said.
May 16, 2004

Sunday, 15 February 2004

Two Irish women held in Spain over missing Westies

Sunday Tribune

POLICE in Spain are questioning two Irish women in connection with the investigation into the disappearance of two alleged leaders of a Dublin drugs gang.

The two women, believed to be girlfriends of the missing men, were arrested yesterday after flying to Spain to officially report the two men missing. The women are being held in a resort town south of Alicante.

Twenty-six year old Stephen Sugg and 31-year old Shane Coates ? both of whom are allegedly involved in a Dublin crime gang known as the 'Westies' ? have been missing from their villa in the south-east of Spain for two weeks.

It is believed that detectives investigating the disappearance arrested the women after becoming suspicious of their stories. The women told detectives that they were unaware that police are probing the possibility that the whole disappearance is a hoax to avoid arrest. Both men are wanted by the gardai.

The two women were arrested and taken to a local police station where they can be held for a maximum of 72 hours.

Coates and Sugg have been missing for two weeks now.

Sugg fled to Alicante following an attempt on his life early last year. Coates fled to Spain from Ireland in May of last year after being involved in a shootout with officers of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) in Cavan.

The pair first met when they were teenagers on the Corduff estate in Dublin's northside. The pair had run up a string of convictions before leaving Ireland last year.

It had initially been presumed that the men had been kidnapped in relation to a dispute with a rival drug gang either from Spain or Ireland.

However, another possibility currently being investigated by Spanish police is that they may have faked their own disappearence to avoid capture.
February 15, 2004

Westies may have crossed one vicious hood too far

Sunday Tribune

The Westies' Spanish exiles might well have met a grisly end. Or they could be regrouping
John Burke
FOR A duo that once believed themselves to be indestructible, the 'disappearance' of Westies leader Shane Coates and his sidekick Stephen Sugg may be the latest act of desperation following the crumbling of their drug empire.

Coates and Sugg have kept some dangerous company since they fled to Spain last year, and it is entirely plausible that a disagreement over drugs or money could have led to them being kidnapped and killed as has been alleged during the week. However, a bogus kidnapping could allow them the chance to lay low for a while.

Gardaí have been eager to speak to Coates since he fled from Ireland after a shootout with officers of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) in Cavan last May.

Coates recently got into a series of rows with Spanishbased criminals. The pair are also believed to be involved with a British drug gang with links to associates of top loyalist Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair.

Some of Adair's associates in the UDA fled to Lancashire in England after being expelled from Belfast during last year's inter-loyalist feud.

They quickly became involved in the drug scene in northern England.

A further twist in the plot emerged when it was revealed that Coates may have received ?50,000 from a Dublin drug boss to pass onto an associate in Spain who was living with the daughter of jailed drug dealer John Gilligan. The associate of the Dublin drug dealer has since died, and there have been allegations that this money may not have been passed on, leading to further potential friction in the criminal underworld.

In recent months, Garda sources believe the duo were planning to re-claim their stake in the lucrative drug market of west Dublin, but were playing a dangerous game of buying drugs without the cash to back it up.

If they were kidnapped, or are on the run, and the offence committed was failure to pay their debts, it may be the last west Dublin will see of Coates and Sugg. Spanish police have shown little interest in the case, making it even more difficult to understand what has happened to the Westies' leaders. While initial reports said the duo were dead, an associate of Sugg has since contacted his family to assure them he is fine.

When they ruled their lucrative drugs empire on the west side of Dublin's northside, the Westies operated with chilling ruthlessness, often employing needlessly gratuitous violence against their adversaries. In Alicante and Costa Blanca, it seems, Coates and Sugg were muscle without power.

If Coates and Sugg are alive, it is not for a lack of enemies at home. One theory, almost gaining consensus, is that the assassination last year of Sugg's brother Bernard was carried out by a rival drug dealer based in Donaghmede, north Dublin, who wanted a piece of the Westies' Mulhuddart and Blanchardstown drugs trade for himself. The reality may be less certain. Involvement by republican paramilitaries has not been ruled out, one well-placed Garda source told the Sunday Tribune.

"Their (republican) representatives were sent away with bruises when they came looking for contributions from the (Westies) gang. With something like this, they weren't dealing with the junkies that they normally terrorised into submission." Criminals such as John Gilligan and Dutch exile John Cunningham made more money; the General, Martin Cahill, was smarter; but the Westies were fearless, fearsome and savage, and netted an estimated ?2m a year over three years.

Thirty-one year-old Coates and Sugg, 26, were friends since their teens in the working class Corduff estate on Dublin's northside and had stolen cars together, leading to numerous convictions. In the late 1990s, they saw a vacuum in the hash and heroin trade in northside Dublin and moved in with brutal effectiveness.

For over four years they conducted their affairs with relative impunity. Despite several parallel investigations, gardaí have not, to this date, laid so much as a soft glove on them. At times, gardaí constructed seemingly watertight cases that for various reasons fell apart. The Westies were adept at threatening and attacking those who could give evidence against them long before the concept of witness intimidation reached public awareness during the Limerick feud-related Eric Leamy murder trial last November.

The secret to the Westies' success lay in the level of fear they instilled both in those who worked for them and in their enemies. Junkies and dealers who owed as little as £10 were severely beaten.

One mother of four was tortured by having her breasts burned with cigarette butts, in front of her children. The only people who could finger the gang lived in absolute fear of their wrath.

The Westies' gang encouraged brutality among its network of pushers. One junkie, Derek 'Smiley' McGuinness, from Corduff Park in Blanchardstown, owed the gang £200. He was set upon by two other pushers who, along with Sugg, smashed all his teeth, slashed him across the face and beat him with an iron bar in a public park. McGuinness gave a statement to gardaí identifying Sugg.

Forty-three-year-old rival heroin dealer Pascal Boland had seen tough men when he dealt with the notorious PJ Judge, a particularly violent drug dealer who was assasinated some years ago. He decided to push in on the Westies' turf and between October 1998 and January 1999 he reportedly imported several major heroin shipments.

A Westies' pusher who helped Boland was severely beaten and told to pass a mobile phone number to Boland. When the older criminal rang the number he was allegedly told to get off the Westies' patch or he was dead. He told the gang leader to "fuck off. . . you're nobodies". On 27 January 1999, a gunman fired 11 bullets into Boland's body.

It was the Westies' first big mistake, allowing gardaí in Blanchardstown to mount a special investigation into the gang's activities. Increased surveillance and intelligence gathering generated new leads for the gardaí.

But Coates was no fool and he proved elusive. Neither he nor senior gang members dealt directly with their merchandise and seemed almost untouchable.

But gardaí got a boost from an unexpected source when, in October 1999, Westies henchmen shot 18-year-old Blanchardstown local Paul Dempsey in his bed, disconnecting his right calf muscle from his leg with one shot.

His offence? The teen was so bold as to date Sugg's 16-yearold sister Frances without the elder brother's permission. Dempsey's brother Robert was a friend of Sugg's but he was beaten with an iron bar. Dempsey and his brother agreed to give evidence in court.

Evidence from both Dempsey and McGuinness could put the senior gang members away for a long time, and hopes were high that stronger prosecutions might emerge once the pair were off the street.

Coates spent 14 months on remand. But by October 2000 the cases against the pair were in shreds. Nobody forgot for too long that to mess with the Westies was to invite a painful death. Neither Dempsey nor McGuinness would give evidence in court.

Between the end of 2000 and late 2002 the gang brazenly stamped their authority on the west Dublin territory. Three small-time drug pushers were tortured and shot over bad debts. Gardaí believe a large number of people who fell foul of the gang were beaten and tortured with knives, vice grips and iron bars.

But by the middle of last year, things had gone almost irrevocably wrong for Coates and Sugg. They had stepped on someone's toes once too often and had clearly come up against a rival who was unimpressed by their terror tactics.

Sugg panicked after an attempt on his life 12 months ago and fled to Alicante. He was joined there by Coates three months later, after he was injured in a shootout with members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) at a safe house in Cavan. Gardaí believe the pair have some loose connections to a number of expatriate Irish criminals in Costa Blanca, most of whom are small-scale compared to the north African and eastern European gangs that run hashish, heroin and prostitution rackets via the Mediterranean country.

The final strike against the Westies' empire occurred in their absence, when Bernard Sugg was assassinated in a Blanchardstown pub last August. Another drug criminal, republican paramilitaries, or both? Either way, someone else had decided that the Westies were finished.

Whether Coates and Sugg expected an easier ride in their Spanish exile is uncertain, but last week, there was a sense of inevitability in their failure to frighten hardened Alicante-based criminals into submission, in the same manner that they brutalised west Dublin's junkies.


THE growing fraternity of Irish expats living in Spain and Holland includes some of the most notorious names in the Dublin drugs scene of recent years.

Among these is Dubliner Peter Mitchell, 34, based in Fuengirola, Spain. Mitchell is wanted in connection with his alleged role in what was believed to be the largest drugs gang in the capital in the 1980s.

George 'The Penguin' Mitchell, 51, allegedly continues to run his hash business from Holland. He was a suspected member of the £30m Beit art robbery gang led by Martin Cahill in the 1980s.

Tommy Savage, 53, was arrested last month in Amsterdam amid claims that he was selling drugs into Ireland and Greece. He was a prominent dealer along with Michael Weldon, 49, who also . ed the country fearing a Garda investigation in 1993.

Weldon reportedly has his own plane and pilot's licence, and frequently flies to South America. He is believed to be living in Spain, as is John 'The Coach' Traynor.

Some Irish drug dealers have met horri. c deaths facing foreign gangs. In May 2000, two young men from Tipperary and one from Ennis ? who were involved in drug manufacturing in Schevingen in Holland ? were tortured and killed.
February 15, 2004