Sunday, 29 April 2007

Sunday Tribune
Families of 'Westies' crime bosses still waiting for bodies from Spain
Mick McCaffrey Security Editor

The bodies of Shane Coates (31) and Stephen Sugg (27) were found under concrete in Alicante last JulyNINE months after the bodies of two notorious Westies crime gang bosses were discovered in Spain, their families have still not been told when they can be brought home for burial.

Shane Coates (31) and Stephen Sugg (27) were found under concrete on an industrial estate close to Alicante last July. The two men were murdered in January 2004 after being lured to a meeting with a rival gang on the premise of negotiating a drug deal.

Although the remains found have been officially confirmed as being those of Coates and Sugg, Spanish police have made no effort to contact the men's families in Dublin.

Shane Coates's brother Christian says they expected the bodies to be repatriated in the weeks after they were found."We have heard absolutely nothing, nothing at all. We are still waiting and have had no information from the Spanish authorities. We are just waiting on something to happen and you can imagine how the families are feeling. We thought it would all be finished by now, " said Christian Coates, an immunologist at Trinity College.

The HSE has agreed to give a grant of several thousand euro to the Coates family in order to offset the costs of transporting Shane Coates home.

Gardai are also puzzled by the delay and have not heard from their Spanish counterparts either. Detectives are eager to be informed of when the funerals will be so they can put together a security operation to ensure there is no trouble.

One source said: "It is unclear why they haven't been flown back here yet but the Spanish police are notoriously laid back and the bodies are probably sitting in a morgue somewhere awaiting clearance from the coroner. It must be difficult for the families. Sugg and Coates were nasty people but they still had loved ones."

Coates and Sugg were the feared leaders of the Westies, a vicious drug gang operating around west Dublin from its base in Blanchardstown.

They ruled their turf with ruthless efficiency and would stab and mutilate hopeless drug addicts for as little as a 20 debt. One man required 80 stitches after being slashed with a carpet knife while a woman had a cigarette extinguished on her breast.

The Westies, which comprised around two dozen hardcore members, made millions of euro dealing cocaine, heroin, cannabis and ecstasy. In May 2003, the gang stole a cache of weapons from a licensed firearms dealer in Balbriggan, Co Dublin and gardai traced them to a house in Virginia, Co Cavan.

Shane Coates was injured during a shootout but managed to escape. Twenty-one firearms and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition were recovered by gardai. Coates then fled to Alicante and Sugg followed him weeks later.

Alicante is home to several Irish criminals who use it as a base for importing drugs.

Not long after arriving in the city Sugg and Coates started to cross rival gangsters and threatened them. This did not go down well with the Irish who were already established there.

One of the main Irish mobsters in Alicante was a Dubliner who moved to Spain five years ago, and who had developed contacts with the Russian mob and initially helped the Westies when they arrived. They soon went into direct competition with him and the man invited them to a meeting in the hills of Caltra. His associates were waiting and tortured the two men before shooting them in the head and dumping them in a six-foot hole at the side of a warehouse before pouring fresh concrete over it.

Undercover gardai from Blanchardstown station were deployed to Spain and received detailed confidential information specifying where Coates and Sugg were buried.

A subsequent excavation of the warehouse by Spanish police led to the bodies being recovered. Local people have arrested one man as part of their investigation.
April 29, 2007

Battleground still tense despite gang boss's jailing

Sunday April 29 2007
AN UNUSUAL raid on a house in a well-to-do part of the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham took place last October as part of the Garda Siochana's investigations into the bloody feud that had broken out in north inner Dublin over the revelation that gangster Christy Griffin had been raping his partner's daughter since she was a child.

Gardai arrived at the house at six o'clock one morning and carried out a search but found nothing. The house probably has a market value of around €2m. It is owned by the former "OC", or officer commanding, of the Dublin IRA.

The detectives were looking for a stash of grenades which, they believed, had been handed over by members of the IRA in Belfast to a man centrally involved in the feud. Two grenade attacks had taken place as part of the feud.

The IRA "OC" and Christy Griffin were long-time associates. The "OC" used Griffin and others to carry out hijackings in Dublin Port where the IRA ran a number of agents who identified containers of valuable, easily marketed goods, particularly cigarettes.

It was a highly lucrative racket. The Dublin "OC" had bought the new house in Rathfarnham for €850,000 five years earlier. He also bought a holiday home in Co Wexford close to another bought by his wife's sister, who was cohabiting with a recently released IRA prisoner. All four were closely involved with Sinn Fein.

The activities of the IRA gang from north inner Dublin were, around this time two years ago, central to what was happening in the peace process in the North. Their hijackings of containers of goods worth millions of euros from Dublin Port were becoming an increasing embarrassment to both the Government and the Sinn Fein leadership. It had been revealed in the Sunday Independent that the cigarette manufacturer Gallahers had stopped transporting cigarettes across the border because of the number of hijackings being carried out by the south Armagh IRA. Caught with increasingly damning evidence of the IRA's descent into pure criminality and increasingly pointed comments by the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, the Adams-McGuinness leadership ordered that the activities cease. So it was that the IRA basically closed down its Dublin operations - though still retaining "business" links with their former colleagues.

The Dublin IRA was increasingly involved in drugs. One of the figures centrally involved in both the hijackings and drugs trade, and working directly to the IRA "OC" in Dublin was Christy Griffin. He was, to the IRA, a "deniable" asset. He was not a fully fledged member of the organisation but worked almost exclusively for percentage gain. The IRA, in Dublin, on the border and in the North, was increasingly confident it could do whatever it liked so long as it didn't constitute political "terrorism". Both the Irish and British governments were desperate to ensure that Sinn Fein was kept in the process even if it meant turning a blind eye to organised crime up to and including murder.

One of the people enjoying this de facto amnesty on IRA organised crime was Christy Griffin. He and his associates were able to conduct their activities confident that they had the full backing and muscle of the IRA. Griffin, like the IRA "OC", was a career criminal, moving from petty larceny as a teenager to increasingly violent crime. His speciality was the terrorising of innocent lorry drivers or business owners.

His nephew, Colm Griffin, of Canon Lillis Avenue, was another member of the same gang. He would be supplied with details of movements of containers or easily robbed post offices or banks and handed weapons by the IRA. In May 2005, Colm Griffin and another member of the gang, Eric Hopkins, of Lower Rutland Street, were shot dead as they carried out the armed robbery of the post office in Lusk, in north Co Dublin.

At about the same time a 19-year-old girl, the daughter of Christy Griffin's partner, had decided she had had enough torment and sexual abuse at the hands of the convicted robber and drug dealer. She went to Store Street Garda station and filed a complaint. It was something that would have been unthinkable only a few years earlier. Making a statement to the Gardai about a member of the IRA was tantamount to a death sentence.

One such case was very well known in north inner Dublin. Thomas "Tomo" Byrne was a well-known and liked figure in the north inner city's close-knit community. A female relative had been attacked and beaten by the "OC" and Byrne had confronted him in a bar and beaten him senseless. Aware that retribution was on the way Byrne fled to England. However, he returned eight months later to see his family. He was shot dead while enjoying a pint with friends in O'Neill's pub on Summerhill on April 30, 2000.

Griffin's abuse of his partner's daughter - for which he was jailed for life last week - started in 1993 when she was only eight and living at his flat in Canon Lillis Avenue. Her mother was apparently besotted with Griffin, who was also conducting affairs with other women.

The decision of the girl to file the complaint in 2005 immediately started a split in the tight-knit IRA in north inner Dublin. Griffin's associates began a campaign to terrorise the girl into withdrawing her complaint. Other members of the IRA-led gang moved to stop them. They were enraged when they heard what Griffin had done to the girl.

At first there were fist fights in local pubs, then a stabbing. Griffin moved out of the flat in Canon Lillis Avenue to a house in Ridgewood Avenue in Swords, where the first serious attempt on his life took place in October 2005, when five shots were fired at him through the living room window. From that point to the end of last year there were over 20 shooting incidents.

Last October, Gardai later learned, one of Griffin's opponents made contact with another IRA man in Belfast and acquired the cache of grenades. They went back out to Griffin's house and tried to throw a grenade through the kitchen window. It bounced off the window frame and exploded harmlessly in the back yard. After this attack the Special Branch moved in and found out that the grenades had come to Dublin from west Belfast. They also found that the "OC" was actually keeping on good terms with both as both sides were still central to his criminal operations. He has remained above the blood-letting in his former neighbourhood, and enjoys the life of a wealthy businessman with interests in the waste disposal business providing him with a means of laundering criminal earnings from his former IRA associates in the north inner city. Although he was hit with a €500,000 bill for unpaid tax by the Criminal Assets Bureau last year he is still a man of considerable means, enjoying the "peace" dividend.

After the grenade attack, Griffin's mob retaliated. The shooting match escalated with two attacks taking place in Canon Lillis Avenue and Seville Place on a single evening on November 11 last year. Then Griffin's mob shot dead Gerard Byrne on December 12 last as he emerged from a shop in the Financial Services area near his home in Sheriff Street. In retaliation the other side shot dead an innocent man, Stephen Ledden on December 27, mistaking him for the man they believed had killed Byrne.

Increasingly aware that the situation was worsening and that armed gangs were living cheek by jowl in the north inner city - some only doors away from each other - the Garda drafted hundreds of extra police into the area. During the rugby internationals in Croke Park in January Gardai were still receiving intelligence reports of impending attacks. The rugby fans on their way to and from the stadium were blissfully unaware that they were walking through a battleground only kept under control by armed detectives and almost the entire Emergency Response Unit, keeping the peace at Canon Lillis Avenue and other hot spots.

The feud isn't over. This weekend the north inner city is still tense. Griffin's mob are unrepentant, and wounds inflicted by both sides remain unhealed despite efforts by gardai, local politicians and clergy to clam things. A seasoned local detective, asked about what lay ahead, simply observed: "When thieves fall out . . . "

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Associate of dead gangland boss latest victim of 'curse'

Sunday Tribune

Mick McCaffrey Security Editor
FROM TOP: Martin 'Marlo' Hyland and Declan Curran; both reputed to be victims of a curse placed on gangland figuresA CLOSE associate of murdered gangland boss Martin 'Marlo' Hyland's gang has been found dead.

Anthony Ledwidge, 24, from Ratoath Drive in Finglas was found dead at a building site in Ballymun on 25 March.

He was the prime suspect in an incident which left a security guard at the Law Library dead after he was crushed by a gate rammed by a stolen car.

Gardaí are not treating his death as suspicious and criminals say he is the latest victim of the so-called 'Cappagh Curse', a supposed hex placed on criminals in Dublin 15 by a Traveller woman who said 12 would die within three years.

Ten have since passed away.

Ledwidge was very well known to gardaí in Finglas and has several previous convictions for drug offences. He was linked with Marlo Hyland, one of the country's biggest drug dealers, who was shot dead last December, and was also close to Declan Curran who died in November 2004.

Detectives believe that Ledwidge and Curran, one of the most notorious gangland figures in criminal history, were responsible for killing security guard Pat O'Donnell in March 1999.

Two men broke into the Law Library offices in Dublin and attempted to steal a car.

O'Donnell, 50, was on duty and saw the men on a closedcircuit TV camera.

He contacted gardaí, and as they searched the area, the raiders drove through the locked gate of the car park in the stolen Volkswagen Golf.

The heavy steel gates fell on the security guard and crushed him.

The married man suffered serious head injuries and died. A garda suffered a broken arm in the same incident.

Ledwidge and Curran were both questioned over the incident but the DPP ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

Detectives have little doubt that the pair were responsible.

Declan Curran even taunted officers over the incident, saying it was lucky that the two gardaí jumped out of the way or they would have been killed.

Criminals in Finglas are living in fear of the 'Cappagh Curse' which was supposedly placed by a Traveller woman. It is said that the mother of a man who had died of a drug overdose approached the woman in June 2003 and asked her to curse the gang responsible for selling him heroin.

That gang was led by Marlo Hyland; Declan Curran also operated a gang that was working to Hyland.

Detectives first heard of the curse in July 2003 when 30-year-old Victor Murphy was accidentally killed when a shotgun he was carrying in a stolen car went off. He had been on his way to carry out a robbery with Declan Curran at the time.

Curran, 23, fell victim to the curse himself when he died of a mystery heart condition in Cloverhill prison.

Just days later, his friend Paul Cunningham was shot dead in Blanchardstown.

Others who are also said to be victims of the hex include murder suspect Paul Boyd, ATM thief Anthony Spratt and Westies leaders Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg.

Marlo Hyland also fell victim to the curse when he was shot dead by his own gang last December.

Gardaí say criminals are far more frightened of the 'Cappagh Curse' than they are of the law.
April 15, 2007

Friday, 6 April 2007

Influx of 100 gardai for troubled city as plan is drawn up to tackle gang crime

By Barry Duggan

Friday April 06 2007
A DEDICATED force of 100 extra gardai and a specially appointed superintendent will be deployed to tackle serious crime in Limerick by the end of August.

They will be concentrating in the four suburbs which are bases for notorious criminal gangs - Moyross, Southill, St Mary's Park and Ballinacurra-Weston.

Former Dublin city manager, John Fitzgerald, said the gardai would now begin to install officers in the four urban areas where the warring Dundon-McCarthys, Keane and Collopy gangs operate.

The gangs are known throughout the country and are heavily involved in the shipment and distribution of drugs and firearms.

The report, which looks at ways to tackle a variety of social issues in Limerick, has received the approval of the Cabinet, with recommendations already being implemented.

Mr Fitzgerald, who was spent five months compiling the report, said the extra gardai would be arriving "immediately".

"It will be phased in. You are not going to see 100 extra guards coming here in a month. You are talking about a period of over four to five months. They will be dedicated to these four areas along with the gardai already there," said Mr Fitzgerald.

- Barry Duggan

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Partner of murder victim tells of 'living hell of harassment'

By Allison Bray

Thursday April 05 2007
THE former partner of a man who was murdered outside his home, said she was in a "living hell" as a result of harassment from the killer's friends and family.

Stephen Kelly (22), had to be restrained by gardai after he told the victim's family to "shut the f**k up" when a jury unanimously convicted him of the murder of Ian McConnell (28), at the Central Criminal Court at the end of February.

Now members of the McConnell family - who sobbed and hugged each other when Kelly was sentenced to life in prison - claim they are being harassed at the same tower block on Shangan Road, Ballymun, North Dublin.

Mr McConnell was shot at close range in the back of the head at a party in December 2005.

The victim's former girlfriend and mother of his four young children, Karen Fulton, said she and her children were being taunted on a regular basis by Kelly's associates.

Her car and the car belonging to the victim's father David McConnell had been vandalised several times, along with the victim's grave. Her children, who range in age from seven to 10, are also being subjected to verbal abuse and taunts as they go about their business and she no longer lets them play outside in the area, she claimed.

The murder took place at a landing next door to the young mother's flat. It was sparked by a suspected feud between rival gangs in Ballymun.

The 28-year-old said she applied to be rehoused from the local authority flat immediately after the shooting but is still waiting for a new home despite being put on Dublin Corporation's priority list for re-housing.

Aside from having to re-live the horror of the shooting every time she walks past the flat, Ms Fulton said she fears for herself and her family now that Mr McConnell and his daughter have been promised new accommodation away from Ballymun.

"I'm worried because I'm going to be there on my own," she said.

"I just want to get out for my kids' sake," she told the Irish Independent yesterday. "It's a living hell."

She went public with her plight on RTE Radio's 'Liveline' programme yesterday in a desperate bid to get re-housed as soon as possible.

But a spokesman for Dublin Corporation said that while special consideration was given to some people on the waiting list for compassionate reasons, there remains a backlog of people who are waiting to be re-housed.

"If there is an offer made to someone it could be some time before there's a spot available," he said.

- Allison Bray

Monday, 2 April 2007

UK's biggest cocaine dealer facing long sentence

Brian Wright, nicknamed The Milkman, flooded Britain with huge quantities of cocaine in the 90s. Today he was found guilty by a south London court of conspiracy to supply drugs. Ian Cobain reports, Monday 2 April 2007 17.14 BST
An undated picture of Brian Wright released in 2002 by HM Customs and Excise. Photograph: PA He is a former borstal boy who became Britain's most successful cocaine smuggler, befriending the rich and the famous along the way. His friends in showbusiness declared him to be a warm and generous man, while his underworld drug dealing associates nicknamed him The Milkman - because he always delivered.
Brian Wright and his gang flooded the country with enormous quantities of cocaine throughout the 90s. In just one year, 1998, they are thought to have imported almost two tonnes of the drug, with the result, according to one Customs investigator, that "the cocaine was coming in faster than people could snort it".
A lifelong gambler, Wright used some of his drugs fortune to bribe jockeys and to arrange for racehorses to be doped. He would then bet £50,000 or more on rigged races, and use the proceeds as a facade to conceal the true source of his wealth.
Yet despite his notoriety, Wright felt able to taunt one Customs officer that he was prepared to "bet my £1m to your £1 coin" that he would never be successfully prosecuted.
Today Wright, 60, is facing a lengthy prison sentence after being found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court in London of conspiracy to evade prohibition on the importation of a controlled drug and conspiracy to supply drugs.
The trial followed an 11-year investigation, on four continents, codenamed Operation Extend. Among the 20 people convicted were Wright's son, son-in-law and several other members of his gang.
One, Paul Rogers, a former Daily Mirror journalist and expert yachtsman who has written several books about sailing, was jailed for 16 years. Wright's main south American contact, a 56-year-old Brazilian economist called Ronald Soares, received a 24-year term. Another person who was drawn onto the fringes of the gang was Bill Frost, a Times journalist who developed a cocaine addiction and died, aged 50, six years ago.
The Milkman was born in Dublin and moved to the UK at the age of 12, growing up in Kilburn, north west London. He was sent to borstal for two years after repeatedly truanting from school to work on market stalls.
He is thought to be largely illiterate and, by his own admission, has never paid a penny in tax in his life. Nor has he ever had a bank account, credit card or national insurance number. In his drug-smuggling heyday he would travel by boat or private jet, and Customs officers are unsure whether he has ever had a passport.
"On paper," one investigator said today, "he simply doesn't exist."
British Customs officers first came across The Milkman after their Irish counterparts seized 599 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of around £80m, from a converted trawler which docked at Cork in September 1996. Further investigations suggested the drugs were destined for Wright, who was already the subject of inquiries by the Jockey Club and Scotland Yard into race-fixing.
As the investigation developed, and more gang members and vessels came into the picture, Customs officers realised that Wright was using a modus operandi called "coopering", which has been employed by British smugglers for hundreds of years.
Consignments of cocaine would be despatched from south America or the Caribbean in a large yacht, which would sail to Devon or Cornwall. That vessel would almost inevitably attract the attention of Customs officers. Before reaching Britain, however, it would rendezvous over the horizon with a smaller yacht which appeared to be making a day trip from a south coast resort.
The drugs would be switched, or coopered, from one vessel to another. And while the first yacht was being searched on arrival in the UK, the second would be offloading the cocaine to waiting cars and vans.
Customs officers eventually identified six yachts which crossed the Atlantic this way, bringing three tonnes of cocaine between 1996 and 1998. Some of those eventually arrested admitted they had been running the Caribbean-Cornwall route as early as '93.
Wright was able to buy a large house in Frimley, Surrey, and a villa in Spain. He had a box at Ascot, rented a flat in Chelsea's luxurious King's Quay development, and conducted most of his business from the adjoining Conrad Hotel. Most of his wealth was held in cash, however, stashed in the lofts of relatives.
By this time, the big-spending Wright was close to a number of celebrities, who would laugh off any suggestion that he was a major international drug smuggler. Jim Davidson, the comedian, asked him to be godfather to his son. Mick Channon, the former Southampton and England footballer who became a successful racehorse trainer, agreed to be a character witness at his trial. Wright boasted that Frank Sinatra had also been a friend, and it is understood he rubbed shoulders with Clint Eastwood, Michael Caine and Jerry Hall. All were unaware of his criminal background.
Customs officers, meanwhile, say they had established that Wright was masterminding the biggest international drugs trafficking operation ever to target the UK. They had travelled to the Caribbean, Venezuela, Australia, South Africa, the USA and half-a-dozen European countries. Dozens of gang members and suppliers had been identified.
While most of the gang was rounded up in 1999, and subsequently jailed, Wright managed to flee from his villa in Spain and travel by plane to northern, Turkish-controlled Cyprus, which has no extradition arrangements with the UK. Fearing detention there, he travelled to Spain, where he was arrested in April 2005.
He was convicted after a trial which lasted almost three months.