Sunday, 29 July 2007

Shooting as feud gangs gear up to kill

Shooting as feud gangs gear up to kill
Sunday July 29 2007


GARDAI fear that Limerick's simmering crime gang feud is about to boil over again as new shootings followed last week's dismissal of court appeals by the five murderers of crime chief Kieran Keane.

Early yesterday there was a shooting in the city at Georgian Villas on the Old Cork Road, where a number of shots were fired at a house around 1am.

Both a woman and a man in the house at the time were taken to the Mid Western Regional Hospital.

The woman sustained a leg injury while the man is said to be suffering from shock.

Two men dressed in black and wearing balaclavas were seen running from the scene, where a technical examination was conducted yesterday morning.

The incident came less than 72 hours after Wednesday's Court of Criminal Appeal's rejection of the appeal by the five convicted murderers of crime boss Kieran Keane.

The city has now endured eight years of violence. More than 100 criminals are currently jailed for feud-related violence, and teenagers have been arrested on the streets armed with Israeli-manufactured Desert Eagle handguns.

Dundon-McCarthy gang members were so convinced that Wednesday's appeal would succeed that a major party was planned. However, it was the Keane gang that celebrated, with the nephew of the murdered man, Liam Keane, 23, arrested for being drunk and disorderly in the city less than 24 hours after the court's decision.

The feud became even more ludicrous this week when two horses estimated to be worth €20,000 each were stolen from the Keane gang and held for ransom by their bitter rivals, the Dundon-McCarthys.

The horses were returned unharmed during the latest bizarre twist in the battle for control of the lucrative drugs trade.

For 99 per cent of people in Limerick, ordinary life goes on and the feud is a hyped media myth. But for residents in four deprived suburbs, gang war remains a decade-long reality. The decent residents in Moyross, St Mary's Park, Southill and Ballinacurra-Weston hope that the appointment of former Dublin city manager John Fitzgerald to oversee urban rejuvenation will yield results.

But the path to recovery looks to be arduous. Recently, Mr Fitzgerald held a community meeting in Southill church to discuss how best to deal with anti-socialproblems.

However, he soon learnt that some residents were too afraid to attend and speak out as drug dealers were in attendance and there were fears they would enact swift retribution on anyone who revealed their activities or identities.

Across the city in Moyross, four families were left homeless this month after their houses were gutted following a fortnight of arson attacks.Up to 100 members and associates of the city's gangs have been jailed - many with lengthy sentences - yet there seems to be a conveyor belt of eager younger apprentices keen to carry on the fight.

During this bloody feud, RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades have been seized and mercury tilt switch car bombs defused. There have been running battles outside Limerick courthouse, a five-year-old has been shot, assassins contracted from abroad and gunmen sent on training courses at American gun ranges.

During the height of the recent violence, gardai pounced on three teenagers connected to the Dundon-McCarthys who were about to carry out an assault using a loaded Desert Eagle handgun, grenade, shotguns and pistols.

In another incident, a 16-year-old boy was arrested on board a city-centre-bound bus packed with shoppers while he hid a Beretta double-barrel sawn-off shotgun under his jacket.

Solicitor John Devane has represented criminals on both sides. He acknowledges that impressionable teenagers are keen to learn the respect of older criminals.

"These young fellas, while they are threatening, a lot of them are full of puff. There is a sheep mentality and they follow others easily," he said.

But new methods are being used to curb the violence.

This month, Limerick City Council successfully brought a landmark case to the local district court to have a man barred from entering the local authority estate where he lives with his parents.

Paul Crawford, 33, whose brother, Noel, was shot dead last December, was slapped with an exclusion order to stay out of Southill for 18 months.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Westies' leader 'a victim of trial by media'

Westies' leader 'a victim of trial by media'
By Breda Heffernan

Friday July 27 2007

THE brother of murdered Westies gang leader Shane Coates yeseterday claimed that he was the victim of a "trial by media".

The bodies of Coates and his gangland colleague and friend Stephen Sugg were flown back to Ireland this week, six months after their remains were discovered in a concrete tomb in Spain.

Chris Coates admitted his brother was "messed up in some sort of carry on" and that drugs "could" have been involved.

But he defended his brother's "innocence" and claimed he was the victim of a trial by media.

"Shane was never charged or convicted of anything to do with drugs. And really it was the tabloid newspapers who actually accused him during his trial and then convicted him.

"I believe in due process and I think . . . everything should be done by the law. If somebody is supposed to be involved in drugs they should be charged and brought before a jury and then convicted. But not convicted in the newspaper.

"I think the tabloids have a lot to answer for and they just run amok really at the moment," he added.

When asked how his brother could have found himself buried under six feet of concrete in a Costa Blanca industrial estate, Mr Coates agreed that something untoward was going on and that drugs could have been involved.

"Obviously he was messed up in some sort of carry-on," he said.

Shane Coates was buried in a private funeral amid emotional scenes just six hours after his remains were flown back to Ireland on Wednesday morning.

Mr Coates told Newstalk 106-108's Lunchtime with Eamon Keane his family first learned his brother was missing about two years ago. Authorities in Spain discovered his remains around six months later.

"The family has had the time to sort of get used to it. However, at the funeral yesterday, I have to say that . . . coming up to the funeral you feel like you've sort of got over this type of thing. But actually it was quite an emotional day at the funeral. To see his three young kids getting upset and the rest of the family got upset seeing that."

But he said his family have a certain amount of closure now that Coates's body has been brought home and that "it's good that it's all . . . done with".

The bodies of Coates (31) and Sugg (27) were released by Spanish authorities after their identities were confirmed through DNA testing. Gardai flew to Spain last November with DNA swabs from relatives.

The pair fled Ireland in 2004 after a reign of terror against other drug dealers.

They moved to Torrevieja in south east Spain to recreate their Irish empire but fell foul of rival drug gangs.

Police suspect they had swindled other dealers out of a shipment of cocaine and hashish.

The two west Dublin men were lured from their villa complex at Orihuela Costa, outside Torrevieja, on the evening of January 31, 2004, in the belief that they were going to discuss a drugs deal.

Instead, Coates, from Hartstown, and Sugg, from Corduff, Blanchardstown, were taken to Catral, and shot dead at point-blank range.

- Breda Heffernan

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Ireland's cocaine coast

A recent bust in the 'Irish box' shows drug smugglers are ruling over the Cork shore
Henry McDonald and Mark Townsend
The Observer, Sunday 8 July 2007
It is known as the 'Irish box' - 7,500 miles of water and coastline stretching from the republic's Atlantic seaboard around to Dublin in the east. Vast expanses of these waters are subject to freak and often rapid weather changes that, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, make them 'nearly impossible to patrol' and an ideal launch pad for drug smugglers to penetrate the lucrative UK market.
Detectives in Ireland and Spain are still questioning three men following the recovery of hundreds of millions of euros worth of cocaine off the west Cork coast last Monday - Ireland's largest ever cocaine bust. The Irish drugs squad and detectives in the UK are still searching for two other men they believe are connected to the operation.
Poor weather this weekend was preventing divers from searching for the rest of the drugs believed to be have been dumped off the coast. Navy divers have been on stand-by to search caves in the Dunlough Bay area for stray bales of cocaine. Meanwhile, in force eight gales, the coastline is still being patrolled by gardai and customs officials for contraband that might have washed ashore.
The Irish navy has managed to crack the memory of navigational equipment seized from the inflatable craft used by the suspected smugglers and this should reveal the vessels' routes.
Whatever the outcome, the international criminal gangs behind the alleged smuggling network will continue to use Ireland as a distribution centre for cocaine aimed at the British market, despite the physical risks presented by west Cork's rugged coastline.
Security sources in Dublin this weekend said they believed the shipment would be only the first in a series of landings off Ireland's south-west coast during the summer. Last week unseasonably rough weather caught the traffickers by surprise and they were unable to handle their inflatable craft, known as 'ribs', in the strong seas off Mizen Head.
'The criminal gangs believe the Irish coast is hard to patrol,' said a senior garda official. 'They won't give up just because of one setback. We estimate that for every shipment that gets caught or is compromised through bad weather, another nine will get through.'
The British gangs are following the route used by the Irish-born drug trafficker Brian 'the Milkman' Wright, thus known because he always delivered. During a lifetime of crime, Wright never paid tax, never had a bank account or credit card, and had no national insurance number. Despite being almost illiterate, his drug-dealing empire brought him a box at Royal Ascot, a private jet, racehorses and a host of celebrity friends.
Although he is now behind bars after being sentenced to 30 years in a London court earlier this year, associates of Wright's gang based in England and in Spain's Costa del Sol are thought to have been behind last Monday's seizure.
It was Wright who pioneered the landing of huge cocaine shipments off the south-west of Ireland in the early 1990s, leading to him becoming one of Europe's top drug smugglers. The 'Milkman's' route was first used in 1996, when the Sea Mist, a chartered yacht carrying 599kgs of cocaine, was seized in Cork harbour. Like the aborted plot last week, the Sea Mist docked to seek shelter after running into severe storms. That time Wright escaped conviction even though the crew were subsequently all jailed.
Wright's luck, however, finally ran out last year when the British authorities followed up an investigation into the seizure of five tons of cocaine, worth an estimated €400m, from a ship off the Canary Islands in June 2005. Twelve people were arrested and are now serving lengthy prison sentences. 'The Milkman' fled to Cyprus but then went back to Spain where he was arrested and finally extradited to the UK.
According to garda sources, Ireland has become the favoured route of the cocaine smuggling network opened up by Wright. The gang responsible would know that Irish customs have only one 'cutter' vessel - a craft suitable for inshore work but not the high seas - to patrol 7,500 miles of the 'Irish box'.
The vulnerability of Ireland's coastline was first highlighted seven years ago by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA found that stretches of coast are 'nearly impossible to patrol'. It concluded: 'Ireland's isolated coasts are ideal for shielding offload operations. The country's internal role as a transit point will accelerate as drug trafficking organisations continue to favour using the island for continental and British-bound cocaine and hashish shipments.'
The situation around Ireland contrasts with other drug smuggling routes. Since February 1996, the Royal Navy and UK customs officers have seized 18.36 tonnes of cocaine with a street value of £1.5bn on other sea routes.
Twelve days ago the UK's largest warship, HMS Ocean, seized cocaine with a street value of £29m from a vessel in the Caribbean. Fifteen bales of the drug were hauled up from the sea by helicopter after smugglers threw them into the water. Speaking from the ship's control deck off the Caribbean coast, captain Russ Harding told The Observer his crew had been kept busy patrolling the 'air corridor' favoured by cocaine traffickers between South America and the Caribbean. He said their task was to monitor light aircraft carrying the drug to either makeshift runways or towards 'drop points' in the Atlantic where they would jettison their illicit cargo to be picked up by ships bound for Europe.
While the Irish Naval Service has been strengthened in terms of craft and sailor numbers in recent years, it remains stretched because it also protects Ireland's dwindling fishing stocks. Irish opposition leader Enda Kenny has dubbed the Irish Navy the 'Cinderella service' of the country's defence forces, saying that at any one time there are only two ships patrolling the seas around the Republic.
Lieutenant Commander Bill Lauste of the Royal Navy said that the British gangs behind the new routes are well connected and ruthless.
'It can be dangerous, but if they see a helicopter with a large gun they tend to come quietly. But the really dangerous people are often those behind the scene. Obviously these operations are making a few people pretty angry and we are constantly reviewing our security.'
Much of the intelligence on the cocaine smuggling networks is orchestrated by a new, highly secretive pan-European Maritime Analysis Operations Centre (MAOC) in Portugal. British intelligence officers with experts from Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France and the Netherlands monitor vessel movements from the coca plantations of South America to the Caribbean via the 'Irish box'. The challenge to the MAOC team is daunting. More than 220m sea containers are transported across the oceans and seas each year, with 90 per cent of cargos escaping inspection.
The MAOC centre, which will open later this year, is aimed at protecting the EU's Atlantic borderline from cocaine traffickers. A source inside Soca, the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency, said: 'Actionable intelligence is matched to maritime assets to counter the threat in the most effective way possible. This will increase the operational capability of the participating countries to stem the flow of cocaine and improve our common knowledge of the gangs involved.'
The problem for MAOC and other agencies involved in halting the cocaine tide is the dearth of co-operation between services like the Royal Navy and its smaller Irish equivalent. Last year the then Conservative shadow Northern Ireland Secretary David Lidington called for a new Anglo-Irish naval agreement allowing the two services to work together on joint patrols and to share intelligence aimed at shutting down the sea bound cocaine smuggling networks. Last year the Irish Defence Forces confirmed that there was no formal arrangement between the two navies. Since then there has been no progress.
For the traffickers the risks of using the 'back door' into Europe and the UK - the often-treacherous waters - are outweighed by the rewards. According to the latest United Nations annual global drugs report, around 2.4 per cent of the UK population admit they have tried cocaine - four times as many as a decade ago. Cocaine abuse, the report found, is high among 'educated professionals' in the UK, Italy and Spain. The well-off, it seems, are the market that Wright's successors are out to exploit.
Drug smugglers have been using the Irish coastline for nearly 40 years. It was first established by the British marijuana smuggler turned writer Howard Marks and his Belfast-born sidekick Jim 'the Fox' McCann. But in terms of ruthlessness and organisation today's gangs are in a league of their own. A number of the gangsters involved are believed to be among the UK's 1,600 'most harmful criminals', according to Soca, Britain's version of the FBI. Such individuals, many now fantastically wealthy through crime, are unlikely to give up their empire or shut down the Irish route without putting up a fight.
• A 22-year-old man has been charged in connection with the seizure of more than €100m worth of cocaine in west Cork. At a special sitting of Clonakilty district court, Gerard Hagan, from Liverpool, was charged with possession of cocaine at Dunlough Bay, Mizen Hand, on 2 July.
Hagan was remanded in custody to appear before Dunmanway district court next Wednesday.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Haul could have halved price of cocaine here

Haul could have halved price of cocaine here
Wednesday July 04 2007

THE €200m west Cork drugs haul would, if it hit Irish streets, have halved the price of cocaine within a week.

The startling admission came as gardai stressed that they are convinced the haul - which weighs 1.5 tons - was not destined for Ireland.

Detectives believe that only a tiny portion of the drugs would ever have hit the streets of Dublin, Cork and Limerick - possibly as a 'thank you' from the international drug smugglers to an Irish gang for their provision of local logistics.

But the bulk of the haul was destined for Britain - where the key cocaine markets are in London , Manchester and Birmingham.

Due to a number of factors, the cocaine is worth vastly more to the international drug gangs on the British market than here.

However, the staggering value of the shipment has thrown the spotlight on Ireland's alarming surge in cocaine use.

Leading medical officials, such as A&E consultant Dr Chris Luke and addiction councillors, have warned that cocaine abuse and the dramatic growth in supply of the drug now poses the single greatest public health threat to Ireland.

In the whole of last year, the Gardai and Customs & Excise recovered a total of €100m of drugs.


Monday, 2 July 2007

Suspected drug gang chief held

Suspected drug gang chief held
Ruthless group linked to raid which smashed major operation

Monday July 02 2007

THE suspected second-in-command of one of Dublin's feuding drugs gangs was in custody last night after gardai claimed they had broken up an international drugs supply route into the country.

Drugs with a street value of up to €3.5m were seized in the garda search at an industrial estate in west Dublin.

Some 420 kilos of herbal cannabis, 10 kilos of cocaine, a gun and ammunition were seized in the raid, and gardai believe it is indicative of the huge amounts of drugs being imported into the country.

The herbal cannabis was found in 420 vacuum packed bags and a 9mm Beretta handgun and a quantity of ammunition were also found during the search.

Depending on the purity of the drugs, the slabs of cocaine that were also recovered could have a street value of between €700,000 and €1m.

The seizure is part of an ongoing operation between gardai and members of several UK and European police forces.

"It's a joint police operation involving forces from our own country, the UK and Europe," Inspector Jerry Bergin, who is leading the investigation, said yesterday.

The amount was substantial and gardai were satisfied it had resulted in a major interruption of the flow of cannabis and other drugs into the country.

"It's a significant seizure and it's maybe a reflection also of the amount of cannabis and cocaine that is being imported," he said.

A man in his 20s who was arrested in connection with the raid is believed to be the second-in-command of one of the feuding Crumlin-Drimnagh gangs.

Since the feud erupted in violence in August 2001, 11 people have been killed.

Six of the deaths have been straight tit-for-tat murders between the rival factions who have grown into major cocaine dealers.

Another three murders were internal killings over drugs within the two gangs.

- Fergus Black and Jason O'Brien