Sunday, 29 May 2005

'Charlie Bowden pulled the trigger on Veronica, not me'

Sunday Tribune

By his own admission he had everything going for him. At 17, Arsenal offered him a trial, but he couldn't resist the lure of crime. Speaking from inside Portlaoise Prison, Patrick 'Dutchy' Holland swears he didn't pull the trigger on that awful day journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered and vows to fight to clear his name
Suzanne Breen
'SENIOR Counsel', as he is known by both prisoner officers and inmates in Portlaoise Prison, arrives looking nothing like his nickname suggests.

In a well-worn beige Nike sweatshirt and black tracksuit bottoms, he has an untidy, light beard. He could easily pass for someone sleeping rough. He carries his legal documents in an Arnotts paper bag.

But within seconds, Paddy 'Dutchy' Holland is quoting Irish and European case law as cogently as any barrister, although lacking the detached professional air.

His "job", he says, is to clear his name and help other prisoners challenge the legal establishment: "I'm bitter, very bitter. I'm obsessed with the law. I'm at it day and night.

"I'll get up at 4am to read and write; other times I don't go to bed at all. I'm motivated by hatred of the system. It's what keeps me alive. Ireland might look all right from the outside but it's completely corrupt."

He offers coffee, from a battered green flask he has brought with him, to the Sunday Tribune and the prison officer, sitting in the corner.

Someone has given him a packet of fig rolls, and he's delighted. He moves quickly for a man of 66.

Despite his anger, there is the courtesy of the old-style criminal. He never raises his voice. Had he his way, he would talk non-stop about his case, not about himself. "I hate all this fluff stuff, " he complains at every personal question.

We're in a dilapidated, draughty Portakabin, about eight by 12ft, in the jail. It rattles as other prisoners walk by.

"Good luck with the interview now Paddy!" they shout as they make their way to their own visits. The prison officer keeps an eye on a tabloid newspaper, and an ear on proceedings.

Holland took the prison authorities to court to secure the right to media interviews.

He's determined to make the most of this one. Before he starts, he asks if I'm cold. Was he always so considerate to female reporters?

"I didn't kill her, " he says.

"Her brother, Jimmy, has phoned me twice in here and it was the first question he asked too. I told him I wasn't the gunman as it was claimed and he accepts that.

"I never met Veronica Guerin but I was shocked a girl was shot dead. It was a very heavy one. She had a young child. I knew women who were fuming about it. I didn't play any part in her killing. Eyewitnesses described the gunman as tall, and I'm only 5'8".

They never even put me on an ID parade."

As someone active in the Dublin criminal scene, surely he must have heard something in advance? "No I didn't.

I didn't even know there had been a confrontation between her and John Gilligan. I knew John Gilligan. I did printing jobs for him but I wasn't a member of his gang."

Holland was never charged with Guerin's murder but he was sentenced to 20 years, reduced to 12 on appeal, for the possession and supply of cannabis. He denies that too.

"I didn't even have a cigarette on me when arrested.

"I was into fraud but never drugs. I didn't use them, let alone deal in them. I've seen how they destroy communities. Before I was charged, the newspapers wrote rubbish about me but even they never accused me of drugs.

"I don't smoke or drink. The only thing I ever took was a shandy, years ago when I was a young lad, to give me a bit of courage to ask a girl to dance."

He claims the informer, Charlie Bowden, who testified against him, was Guerin's killer. Bowden, an ex-army marksman, admitted loading the murder weapon.

"If the gardai had Bertie for 48 hours, they'd get a confession from him. They'd make it up. If they want a result for a crime, they don't care how it's done. Bertie might be a great talker but even he wouldn't be able to talk his way out of that. They get away with it.

Look at the number of them proved lying recently, yet how many are behind bars?"

Despite recent disclosures in the Morris tribunal and elsewhere, most citizens will regard this as unjustified criticism and doubly inappropriate from a criminal. "Well it's my opinion and I believe it stands up to scrutiny, although you probably won't print it or be allowed to."

WHEN Holland is released next year, he will have spent 20 years, almost a third of his life, in prison. He was convicted of receiving stolen goods in 1964, armed robbery in 1981, and possession of explosives in 1989.

The court heard the explosives, which he claims belonged to others, weren't for subversive use but had been stolen from a mining company, probably for safebreaking.

Even if Holland is telling the truth on the Guerin murder and drugs charge, isn't he ashamed of his long criminal history? "I've no apologies to make. I never hurt anyone. All I did was take money, and plenty of people in high places in this country took a lot more than me.

"I targeted institutions, not individuals. Banks have robbed far more money from the public than was ever robbed from them." He has "no problem" with the IRA's Northern Bank raid.

"But I was concerned about the hostage-taking. The sums from bank robberies are very different than in my day. They get £26m, I'd have been lucky to get £26,000 but that was a lot in the '70s. I bought a house for £7,000 then."

Despite his armed robbery conviction, he claims not to have used violence: "I never fired a shot in any robbery. I never committed an assault, never even laid a hand on anybody. The only time I used a gun was as a boy. I grew up in Chapelizod, and Ballyfermot was just fields then. I hunted rabbits. I'm against that now. I'm into wildlife.

The boys in here slag me about it."

HE was born, the youngest of six, into a respectable workingclass family. His father was a printer. "A lot of people in prison never had a chance, that's why they're here. I had a chance, I admit that."

He was very sporty. He loved fishing, canoeing and soccer. At 17, he was offered a trial place at Arsenal: "I was set up in a lodging house in London. There was a rule book as long as your arm.

You had to be in by 9pm. I left."

Then he worked in the US as a painter and decorator, "earning good money". He came back in 1969 and married Angela. They had no children but were close to nieces and nephews. She disapproved of crime, he says, and rarely visited him in jail.

Despite his criminal life, he was a loner, never really one of the boys. "Angela was my best friend. There was a great bond between us. I went everywhere with her . . . shopping, even to the hairdressers.

"They used to joke about a bald man like me, always at the hairdressers. My wife was blonde, absolutely gorgeous.

People who saw us on the street wondered what a woman like that was doing with me."

But Angela couldn't change him. In the run-up to Guerin's murder, he was running a print business. Some of the work was legal. He published a human rights pamphlet by Kader Asmal and a booklet on a Jesuits anti-drugs project. He bought the rights to publish a TV guide.

He was also into major forgery. "I made fake 'Levi' labels for use on jeans abroad.

It helped finance the legitimate part of the business.

There's more money in fraud than anything else. I was planning a great forgery of post office saving stamps.

Reproducing the stamps was no problem; the perforations were hard."

At 1pm on 26 June, 1996, Veronica Guerin was shot dead by a gunman on a motorbike. Holland says he was in Dublin city centre.

Around 1.30pm, he caught the bus to Crumlin to collect his dole.

He says he voluntarily gave a statement about his movements to gardai the next month. He fled to England in October when he heard a Sunday newspaper was to name him as the killer, he says.

But he missed home. In an interview with Pat Kenny on RTE radio, he said he would return for questioning if guaranteed an audio- and videorecorded interview, which he claimed entitlement to under the 1984 Criminal Justice Act.

No promises were made, but new regulations on the recording of interviews under the 1984 act came into effect in March 1997.

So, the next month, he returned to present himself to gardai. He had bought recording equipment for "independent protection".

He believed he'd be questioned in one of three stations . . . Lucan, Tallaght, or the Bridewell. He had fitted bugging devices into his shoe, linked to tapes in briefcases which were placed in lodgings he'd rented near all three stations.

HE DISEMBARKED the ferry at Dun Laoghaire: "The gardai were waiting for me. Foolishly, I had a handset in my luggage, linked to the transmitters. They found it and realised what I was at. They took my equipment away.

"I was brought to Lucan, the only one of the three stations without interview recording facilities. I protested. They claimed they couldn't move me to the other two for 'security reasons'." His solicitor, James Orange, was arrested two hours later in a money-laundering investigation. Gardai claimed this was a coincidence.

Orange was eventually released without charge but Holland had been deprived of his solicitor of choice. He says he was later denied access to Orange's wife, Elizabeth Ferris, also a solicitor.

Arrested in connection with the Guerin murder, he says the drugs allegations stunned him.

He continues to deny he suddenly made a confession to gardai when he had gone to such lengths to obtain a recorded interview.

Bowden, whose evidence secured him immunity, now lives abroad under the witness protection programme.

"I understand anyone turning informer out of fear but I hate him for his lies about me, " declares Holland.

Twice during the interview, when asked about his wife's death from a tumour in 2001, his eyes brim with tears. "I should have stayed in England. If I hadn't come back to Ireland, she might still be alive. The stress of the case, and the national hate campaign against me, really affected her."

Angela visited him once in Portlaoise, in a wheelchair, near the end. The prison staff "laid everything on, they were brilliant". He still wears his wedding ring and says he'll never marry again.

He claims not to care about public opinion, "only what family and friends think". He says nobody called him Dutchy until the name was invented by a newspaper.

He hopes to have a second appeal heard this year under section two of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.

He alleges certain gardai deliberately withheld vital documents from the court showing Bowden committed perjury.

He cannot understand why Bowden's testimony was rejected in Paul Ward's successful appeal but still stands in his case.

He continues to deny that he made any admissions at all to the gardai while in custody.

"My conviction could be struck out; at worst, I should get a retrial, " Holland argues.

"Even if I fail, I won't give up.

I'll go to Europe." He says Giovanni Di Stefano, lawyer for Saddam Hussein and the late Serbian warlord Arkan, discussed his case with him in Ireland last May.

Holland is planning other legal challenges too. The prison authorities prevent journalists bringing recording equipment into Portlaoise, effectively ruling out broadcast media interviews.

Photographers are also banned. "I want to go back to court on this, " he says.

Portlaoise Prison told the Sunday Tribune it might charge us 20 an hour for supervising the visit to Holland. The prisoner rants about "rip-off Ireland".

He wishes he had taken a case on securing the vote for prisoners. "I'd support Labour or Fine Gael . . . they're supposed to be more rightwing but they're just more honest. I hate Fianna Fail."

He rarely watches TV, except for documentaries on political or legal misconduct.

Unlike other prisoners, he doesn't bother with CDs or DVDs.

The regime in Portlaoise is relaxed. Prison officers are friendly and helpful on the visit. Holland's cell is about seven by 10ft. He has a photograph of Angela, a computer (although no internet access), and 20 law books.

His pride and joy is Archbold, the legal bible. He has the 2003 edition but wants the 2005 one. His 14 weekly allowance is spent posting registered letters about his case.

He signs correspondence, even faxes, "God Bless". He goes to mass every Sunday.

He doesn't care for food, "except sweet things". He doesn't use the gym but walks around the exercise yard twice a day.

APART from giving legal advice to other prisoners, he is an acknowledged loner. "I do my own thing. I'm not one for sitting with others in a cell yapping all day. I can't stand the smoke anyway."

He receives "letters from lunatics" but has few visitors, "as I like it". Some old friends do remember him, sending in designer suits and shoes of fine Italian leather. He has boxes of them. But he sticks to two sweatshirts . . . the beige, and a green one . . . and his "court suit" when needed.

On release, he plans to earn his living from giving legal advice to whoever wants it.

Some believe this is more about getting guilty men off than fighting injustice.

He never asks other prisoners about their innocence or guilt: "I'm interested only in whether the right procedure has been followed in cases."

He has "regrets" but stubbornly refuses to admit he is even partly responsible for his own fate. He wants to move to England because the gardai would harass him and whomever he lived with in Ireland, he claims.

He says the money from the sale of his detached home in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, is almost gone, but he doesn't care. "I bought it cheaply because it was extended without planning permission. The house was really only for my wife. I could live in a shed.

"I'm hardly coming out of prison for a party. What is there to celebrate? I'm not complaining, just being realistic.

"My wife is dead, my life is over. I'll keep fighting my case but, even if I win, I've no illusion about the effect on the system. Heads won't roll.

Nothing ever happens to 'them'."


THE case against Patrick Eugene 'Dutchy' Holland is based largely on the evidence of supergrass Charlie Bowden. Bowden fingered all the main men who gardai believe from their intelligence were behind the killing of crime reporter Veronica Guerin.

Bowden's account on the day of the murder is that he left home at 10am to go to work at his hairdressing salon. He says that he met two members of John Gilligan's drugs gang later that afternoon.

Brian Meehan, a senior gang member, was paying tribute to Dutchy Holland, Bowden said. Meehan was praising Holland for "ring all the bullets in the gun into Guerin's body.

Holland was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 1997 for possession of drugs with intent to supply, one of the toughest sentences for drugs possession ever imposed.

His subsequent appeal was refused, but the sentence was reduced to 12 years.

Mr Justice Barrington, who presided over the appeal, described Holland as a professional criminal who deserved a lengthy prison sentence. However, Justice Barrington stated that it was unfortunate that references to other crimes . . . including the killing of Guerin . . . had been made during Holland's initial trial. During that trial the arresting garda had stated her belief that Holland was the man who had killed the journalist.

John Burke
May 29, 2005

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