Sunday, 19 March 2006

Gangland killing spree: one dies every three weeks

Sunday Tribune

Eoghan Rice and John Burke
Veronica Guerin's death was meant to be 'the watershed'.

But a decade after the crime journalist's murder, an average of 15 people per year die in gangland slayings, and the drugs trade which fuels the carnage is more intense than ever THE detectives at the national drug unit should have been elated. They had just intercepted a multi-million euro haul of cocaine and broken a new supply route from Nigeria to Dublin Airport via Holland. Instead, mixed with pleasure at a job well done, was concern at how little they knew about the men they had just arrested. They were not even sure if the names provided by the men were genuine.

Just a few years ago, it would have been inconceivable for drug squad detectives not to know the men behind a 3.5m cocaine shipment. In the decade since the 1996 murder of crime reporter Veronica Guerin, gangland crime has changed dramatically. Gardai are struggling to compile intelligence on newly emerging foreign-national gangs involved in the importation of drugs, as well as the large number of apparently low-level criminals involved in acts of serious criminality, including homicide and drug crime.

Foreign-national gangs now play a major role in the importation of cocaine, herbal cannabis and synthetic drugs. Of the major 'commercial' seizures of drugs coming into Ireland in 2005, half of these were directly linked to west African, primarily Nigerian, gangs based here who have constructed a complex importation network to bring drugs into the state, according to the director of the Customs National Drug Team Michael Colgan.

Speaking to the Sunday Tribune, Colgan said west Africa is increasingly the source point for drugs entering Ireland. "One of the major trends we are noticing is the increased involvement of west African gangs in the transit of illegal drugs into the state. The increase in both cocaine and herbal cannabis largely comes about with the increased involvement of these African gangs, " Colgan said.

Drug traffickers are constantly seeking new and more sophisticated smuggling techniques. A recent technique, as explained by Colgan, makes it even harder to detect. "This involves the transformation of cocaine into a liquid substance, after which it is impregnated into the clothing a courier wears. On arrival, a very sophisticated chemical formula is applied that renders the cocaine back into its original state ready for sale on the streets.

This is most worrying because it suggests that a level of chemical know-how more often associated with drugs gangs in Holland is now arriving on our own shores."

There is no doubt about the growth in the drug trade here in the past 10 years or the lucrative nature of the industry. A recent Sunday Tribune investigation established that drug seizures valued at over 1bn have been made over the last decade by gardai and the Customs National Drug Team.

With international policing and academic experts accepting that only about 10% of illegal drugs are detected by state authorities, this means that drugs with a street value of upwards of 10bn, or almost 20m a week, have arrived in Ireland since 1995. The value and scale of these seizures is dramatic: cocaine worth 537m, cannabis 512m, heroin 34m and ecstasy 6m. "Drugs from west Africa are first moved into Morocco and Spain, before being smuggled across Europe, " Colgan said.

The west African gangs are remarkably organised.

"It is difficult to obtain information and intelligence on these gangs, as opposed to gangs that are of a European origin, " he added.

While the growth of foreign-national gangs is a major concern to the authorities here as well as across continental Europe and the UK, Irish gangs remain major players in the importation and, in particular, in the distribution of all types of drugs here. While the work of specialist garda units, under the control of the Garda National Support Services, and the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has brought down many of the former drug barons, a new, younger and more violent generation has emerged to take their place.

One of the major problems now facing gardai is the access that gangs have to a wide and informal network of contacts in large urban areas of the capital which are utilised to store drug consignments as well as to dispose of drug money. When gardai and the Revenue Commissioners teamed up through CAB to bring the weight of the state's new powers of asset seizure down on major criminals' heads after journalist Veronica Guerin's 1996 killing, they knew where to look. There were few of the major players who detectives did not know inside out, and most had accumulated significant assets with their wealth which the state could recover. But that too has changed dramatically. A significant number of the criminals who are currently under investigation by gardai have not accumulated much wealth. In fact, many of them are willing to commit murder and take possession of major consignments of drugs merely to pay for their drug habit. Only a few major players are currently making significant amounts of cash. Many have moved what money they have amassed into assets overseas, it is believed. It is from deprived estates, such as sprawling Corduff in Blanchardstown and areas of Drimnagh, Crumlin and Inchicore, that the main drug gangs of the 1990s emerged, run by men like Martin 'The General' Cahill, the now incarcerated John Gilligan, PJ Judge and George 'The Penguin' Mitchell.

Gilligan was acquitted in 2001 in the Special Criminal Court of involvement in Guerin's murder but is serving a 20-year sentence for possession of cannabis resin. Last month he lost a High Court appeal attempting to prevent CAB from seizing significant assets.

A decade later, these areas still boast the greatest concentration of organised crime gangs in the state, with a small core of gangs based in west Dublin and in south inner-city Dublin responsible for three-quarters of all the gangland-style assassinations in the country since 2000, based on data compiled by the Sunday Tribune.

In tandem with the emergence of these gangs is the push to sell lucrative cocaine and the surge in consumption of this drug across all social strata; in particular, according to anecdotal evidence, the so-called 'professional class'. The trend in rising drug use is not expected to go away soon. One survey indicated that 37% of Irish 15- to 16-year olds had used cannabis, three times the average exposure to cannabis of teenagers in the same age range in other EU countries. Some 54% of 15- to 16-year olds in Ireland also said it was either very easy or fairly easy to buy ecstasy. Ireland now has the secondhighest percentage of cocaine usage amongst the 18 to 24 age group, with 3.5% of that age group having used the drug over the last 12 months. The period 1998-2002 saw the number of Irish males who use cocaine regularly rise from 1.8% to 3%.

Females showed an even larger rise over the same period, climbing from 0.6% to 1.9%. The number of people charged with cocaine-related offences rose by 75% from 169 to 297 over the same period.

Whatever about the growing role of foreignnational gangs in the drugs trade, murders by Irish criminals grab the headlines. The death toll is the highest single indicator that, since Guerin's slaying in 1996, organised crime has rapidly deteriorated. In 1998 there were just four gang-related murders in the state. In the three-year period from 2000 to 2002, there was an average of nine gangland assassinations each year. In the past three years alone, from 2003 to last year, that average has risen to 15 gangland murders per year. Last year alone, there were 19 separate gangland hits. Based on figures compiled by the Sunday Tribune, there have been 78 gangland murders since 2000. Of these, the vast majority, 40 in fact, took place in south Dublin. Nineteen gun murders were carried out in north and west Dublin while 10 were carried out in Limerick.

But for all the myths about gangland drug wars, there is little to suggest that such a problem exists on any significant level. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The most recent Europol organised crime situation report notes that organised crime (OC) gangs in Ireland are unusual, in a European context, insofar as they work closely together to import drugs from continental Europe.

It is believed several members of the travelling community are responsible for supplying a vast amount of the adapted shotguns to the west Dublin gangs. This group, based around Dunsink, is also considered to be heavily involved in fencing stolen goods to criminals in the UK and Northern Ireland.

Disadvantaged estates in central Dublin not only boast the most lethal drug gangs but also the most well-known. In the past, the most high profile of these has been the Westies. Gang leaders Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg have not been seen since they disappeared in Alicante in February 2003, but the Westies were rapidly replaced by a gang that was led by two brothers, Andrew and Mark Glennon, who were both murdered last year and have since been replaced by another gang which comprises former members with whom they fell out.

One of the most feared gangs on the northside of Dublin's inner city is led by two members of one family. The duo are believed to have organised ATM and bank robberies worth over 2m in 2004, as well as being one of the major drug suppliers into Finglas and Blanchardstown. The gang has strong links with expatriate Irish criminals now living in Spain and Holland.

A significant portion of the south Dublin drugs trade, around Crumlin and Drimnagh, is controlled by a handful of highly volatile gangs. A feud among two of these gangs has claimed several lives, including the treble shooting last year that saw John Roche shot dead in March and the killing of Gavin Byrne and Darren Geoghegan and Roche's brother Noel last November.

The public profile of many of the dangerous young men from disadvantaged communities who operate as foot-soldiers, distributors and enforcers in the drug industry is well established. Few have accumulated any considerable wealth and most have chronic drug addiction.

One of the most dangerous criminals of the past few years, Declan Curran, from Cardiffsbridge Avenue in west Finglas, fits the profile.

Curran had already been shot by the time he was 19 years old, an injury which compelled him to wear a colostomy bag even while he carried out crimes. Curran is believed to have been connected to at least three slayings, including the murder of a man who made the mistake of dating Curran's ex-girlfriend.

One of the major problems gardai face is the increasing number of youths in areas such as south Finglas who aspire to be as 'untouchable' as Curran was perceived to be. Few disaffected youths in disadvantaged areas seem interested that Curran hardly profited from crime; wore a bulletproof vest in bed to ward off a likely attack from countless enemies; and spent his final four years carrying his urine in a bag attached to his body.

After Curran's death, while on detention at Cloverhill Prison in November 2004, his former associates carried out a series of tit-for-tat shootings. An associate of his, Paul Cunningham, was murdered in his Mulhuddart home in retaliation.

Cunningham was typical of the complex associations in the criminal world. He was a close criminal associate of Curran's. But Cunningham also had dealings with the so-called Westies gang in Blanchardstown who often came into conflict with Curran's gang. Cunningham and Curran were both closely connected to a major drug lord in the west Dublin area. The gang is based in the south Finglas area and is run by a man in his 20s who is currently serving time in prison in the midlands. This gang is linked to the near-fatal shooting of a man in his 20s last weekend in south Finglas.

The jailed gang leader was also a close associate of Dwayne Foster, the chief suspect in the murder of mother-of-one Donna Cleary. Her killing was described by justice minister Michael McDowell as a "watershed". Both Cleary, and Foster, who died in garda custody due to complications related to his drug use, were buried last week. Few will miss the irony that the young woman met her death almost exactly 10 years after the last such watershed . . . Veronica Guerin's murder.

Ten years on: Who killed Veronica Guerin?

IN THE 10 years since the murder of crime reporter Veronica Guerin, there have been several attempts to bring to justice those believed responsible for her killing. Of the three that faced murder charges, John Gilligan was acquitted and Paul Ward's 1999 conviction was later overturned. Brian Meehan is appealing his murder conviction. However, major questions exist as to whether the three men who supplied information on Gilligan's so-called 'Greenmount gang', former gang members John Dunne, Russell Warren and Charlie Bowden, were more closely involved in the actual murder than emerged in court.

JOHN GILLIGAN Gilligan, 53, is serving a 28-year sentence for his involvement in a major drugs gang. He was tried in 2001 for the murder of Veronica Guerin but was acquitted, a major blow to the garda investigation into the journalist's killing. The criminal assets bureau (CAB) is seeking to seize his Jessbrook estate in Kildare.

BRIAN MEEHAN Brian Meehan, 39, of no fixed abode and formerly of Clifton Court, Dublin, and Stanaway Road, Crumlin, is serving life for the murder of Veronica Guerin, as well as concurrent sentences of 20 years and 12 years for drug offences and five years for firearms offences. He was a member of Gilligan's 'Greenmount Gang' which imported and sold cannabis. He is appealing his murder sentence.

PAUL WARD Ward, 40, from Crumlin, south Dublin, was convicted in 1999 in relation to Guerin's murder, but this was overturned in March 2002. He was released from Portlaoise prison in 2004 having completed a 10-year sentence for his part in a riot at Mountjoy prison in 1997, in which five prison officers were held hostage.

PATRICK HOLLAND 'Dutchy' Holland, 66, is serving a 20-year sentence at Portlaoise prison for possession of drugs with intent to supply, reduced to 12 years on appeal. He was identified in court by Charlie Bowden as the hitman who shot Guerin, but has never been charged with the crime. He insists that Bowden lied. In an interview with Sunday Tribune Northern Editor Suzanne Breen last year, Holland said that Bowden had fired the fatal shots.

JOHN DUNNE John Dunne, 48, is a former international freight manager for a Cork company. He worked at a warehouse in Cork and brought boxes of drugs from the facility to the car park of one of a number of hotel or pub car parks in the midlands. He is believed to be living in a foreign jurisdiction. Under the terms of the witness protection scheme operated by the state, his mortgage is paid for, he is provided with access to employment and he has constant protection.

RUSSELL WARREN Warren is originally from Tallaght. He claimed that he stole the motorbike on the order of John Gilligan to be later used in the assassination of Guerin. His evidence in the case against the gang leader was found to be unreliable. He is living in a foreign jurisdiction. Under the terms of the state's witness protection scheme, his mortgage is paid for and he is provided with access to employment and has constant protection.

CHARLIE BOWDEN Bowden, aged 42, is originally from Finglas in Dublin, and was responsible for minding the guns and safe-houses for Gilligan's gang. He ran the drug-distribution operation from a warehouse in the Greenmount Industrial Estate. A black-belt in karate and a former army corporal who was discharged for beating up a new recruit, Bowden is also a highly-proficient marksman. He is living in a foreign jurisdiction after providing mostly unreliable evidence against Gilligan, Ward and Meehan.
March 19, 2006

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