Sunday, 5 April 2009

Number one with a bullet

Sunday Tribune

It has been a worryingly prolific year so far for gang murders, with a single figure in particular looming large in the chaos
Mick McCaffrey and Ali Bracken
1 2 3 4 The same number of people have lost their lives in the first 14 weeks of the year as a result of gangland murders as in the whole of 2008. Ten people have now died in gangland executions so far in 2009, and the all-time high of 19 killings which occurred in 2006 is likely to be exceeded by the end of the summer if the trend continues.
In 1997, there were just two gang murders in Ireland, and the number has steadily increased since then.
The figure only began to fall in 2007, when the garda commissioner launched Operation Anvil, which flooded murder blackspots in Dublin with armed uniformed patrols harassing known criminals.
The operation brought immediate success. There were 12 murders in 2007 compared to 19 the year before.
When Operation Anvil was extended nationwide last year, the number of murders continued to drop, resulting in a total of 10, which was the lowest figure since 2004.
However, since late last year, Operation Anvil has all but ended because of garda overtime bans and other enforced budget cutbacks.
Garda management and politicians say that Anvil is ongoing – but it is now manned by ordinary uniformed officers as part of their everyday duties rather than specialist plainclothes officers who know who the criminals are.
The upshot of this is that an average of one gangland murder has been committed every week, contributing to an overall total of 13 murders so far this year.
Last week's announcement that garda promotions have been shelved for the foreseeable future will only add to the number of senior officers leaving the force and there seems little doubt that, despite the best efforts of gardaí, the murder rate will continue to rise.
Five of the 10 gangland killings this year have been ordered by a man from Finglas in his mid-30s known as 'Mr Big'. The criminal is totally paranoid and even had his best friends murdered over the slightest rumour of disloyalty. Sources say there is little doubt that Mr Big will murder again before the year is out.
Here, the Sunday Tribune looks at the murders that have occurred so far this year and, having spoken to senior investigators involved in them, examines the likelihood that they will be solved.
1&2 On 7 January drug dealer Michael 'Roly' Cronin (35) and his
26-year-old driver James Maloney were shot dead in a car in Summerhill in Dublin's
north inner city. A 32-year-old man from Finglas, nicknamed 'Mr Big', ordered Cronin's murder because he was trying to establish more territory for himself in north Dublin. Moloney was not a target but was
murdered because he was there. Gardaí know who was responsible for the murder and have phone records and witness statements implicating him. The 36-year old suspect was spirited out of the country to Spain following the murder. Just days later, Mr Big's gang murdered him to prevent him from talking and gardaí believe his body has been buried.
Likelihood of prosecution: Solved on paper but no court proceedings will ever arise.
3 On 19 January, Stephen O'Halloran was shot five times while sitting in a car in the driveway of his house on Kilmartin Drive in Tallaght. Two of his friends also suffered minor gunshot wounds during the incident. The 20-year old was a low-level criminal with a propensity for violence and terrorising local people. He had a number of enemies but gardaí believe they have identified a motive.
Likelihood of prosecution: Possible.
4On 20 January, Graham McNally, who was a close lieutenant of Mr Big, was found dead after being shot in the head off the Old Derry Road near Finglas. He was murdered by his boss over a vague suspicion that 35-year-old McNally had plotted to have Mr Big shot dead.
Likelihood of prosecution: Highly unlikely.
5 Thirty-six-year-old Michael Hendrick was shot dead at Melrose Park in
Clondalkin as he sat in a car. Hendrick was a drug dealer employed by a gang led by a Clondalkin man serving a sentence for manslaughter and a criminal from Co Kildare. Gardaí believe Hendrick was murdered after being blamed for a drugs shipment that officers uncovered and confiscated.
Likelihood of prosecution: Highly unlikely.
6'Champagne' John Carroll was shot dead on 18 February while drinking in a pub in the Coombe, Dublin 8. Mr Big – who wants to extend his drug-dealing dominance into the south inner city – was again the man behind it. The getaway driver has turned state's witness and has named the murderer as well as the role Mr Big played in the slaying. Charges should follow in the coming months.
Likelihood of prosecution: Highly likely.
7On 3 March, 41-year-old Michael Murray was shot dead while out walking near his home in Kippure Park in Finglas. Murray was a suspected hitman who had fallen out with the prolific Mr Big. Accordingly, he ended up dead. The gun used in a murder attempt on Murray last summer was also used in the double murder of Roly Cronin and James Maloney.
Likelihood of prosecution: Highly unlikely.
8On 12 March, 27-year-old Shay O'Byrne was shot dead outside his home at Tymon North Park in Tallaght. His partner, Sharon Rattigan, tackled the gunman, scratched his face and was shot in the leg. In the struggle, the gunman dropped his mobile phone. He was later arrested with a scratched face and if DNA taken from Sharon Rattigan's fingernails is confirmed as being his, he will be charged with the murder. This should happen over the next few weeks.
Likelihood of prosecution: Highly likely.
9Although the body of Liam 'Blackie' Murray was discovered on 20 March, it is likely that he was shot dead on St Patrick's Day. He was murdered while he slept in the bedroom of his cottage at the Rockbrook Road in Rathfarnham. The 42-year-old mechanic was a 'wheeler-dealer' who associated with serious criminals involved in the drugs trade and car rackets. Detectives are probing a land deal with a former IRA man that went wrong but do not definitively know why he was killed. The lack of witnesses will make a prosecution extremely difficult.
Likelihood of prosecution: Highly unlikely.
10The body of drug dealer David 'Fred' Lynch was discovered on wasteland near Belcamp Lane in Coolock last Monday. The 26-year old was shot four times in the head. His gang had been involved in a violent dispute with a rival criminal outfit and there have been several shootings connected to the feud in recent months. Several theories are currently being investigated – it is most likely that the rival gang executed him, although gardaí believe he could have been killed by somebody he knew and trusted.
Likelihood of prosecution: Unlikely.
April 5, 2009

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