November 11, 2009

“Ah, come on, what’s Star backwards?”

HE CERTAINLY wasn’t taking any prisoners.
I wasn’t sure what the reaction of Pat Kenny’s tormentor Alan O’Brien would be when Gary Ashe and I went to his home address to have a little chat with him. It was barely 14 hours after Monday night’s bizarre incident on RTE1 and maybe his blood was still up. Moreover, the questions I wanted to ask him weren’t conducive the conversation ending well.
O’Brien had been feted as something of a hero after he confronted Pat Kenny about his salary live on air during Monday night’s edition of The Frontline. I was watching the show myself and, as soon as he started his rant, I knew I would probably have to go after him the next day.
Presumably like most other news desks in the city, mine wanted firstly to find out the identity of heckler - and then what his story was. As I was driving in to work the following morning, I was frantically wracking my brains, wondering how I would find him.
In the end, I was saved by Today FM. Ray D’Arcy carried a live interview with the heckler, in which he revealed his names was Alan O’Brien and was from Inchicore.
That was all we needed. Within a few minutes we had his address. From there it wasn't too hard to establish he had been in trouble with the law on a few occasions.


(This photo by Gary Ashe shows Alan O'Brien giving me a piece of his mind. He got a good bit closer to me than he did to Pat Kenny. ⓒ Irish Daily Star)

He wasn’t exactly a master crime boss, but he had been before the courts. He was convicted of assaulting a man in a psychiatric clinic of St. James’ Hospital in Dublin (as well as damaging 12 plates, 12 bowls, 12 saucers and 12 glasses); he was fined €100 for criminal damage to a house in Drimnagh; he was given the benefit of the probation act for trespassing in a house in Ballyfermot. But the real item of interest was an incident on Grafton Street in December 2006. There, he launched abuse at people walking by, shouting: “Black Bastards...Muslim...Islamic scum.” He was later given a three month suspended jail term after he was convicted of one count under the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act.
Bingo. We had him. He was a racist thug. Now all we had to do was confront him and put the convictions to him. Maybe he would explode and shout how he hated foreigners coming into Ireland; maybe he would lose the head when his dark past was put to him.
The reality was somewhat different. In fact, after we got him, Gary and I walked away laughing, and with our tails slightly between our legs. He was clearly no racist - and clearly knew how to put us in our place.
We got him as he walked into his flats complex after a visit to the dentist. When we approached him, he was carrying a bundle of newspapers under his arm. After I told him who we were and where we were from, he sniffily replied: “I don’t do tabloids.” A quick glance at the papers under his arm bore that out - they were all broadsheets. Anyway, he deigned to talk to us about his intervention on the Frontline for a few minutes. Gary and I had already decided that we would get as much as we could out of him before we asked him about his criminal past.
So, to be honest, he talked on for four or five minutes about his rationale, while I pretended to listen. The reality is that while he was talking, I was vacantly nodding my head, all the time thinking: “Will I ask him now? Is he going to belt me when I put it to him?”
Eventually, he opened the door by saying how he had been in trouble with the law - but only for breach of the peace, don’t you know. “Well, let’s talk about the Grafton Street incident,” I said.
I braced myself for his reaction - but when it came it was completely unexpected.
There was no anger, no explosion, no self pity.
All I got was a look of contempt, mixed with pity.
“I do not have a racist bone in my body,” he said.
“But hold on a minute,” I countered. “You can’t really go round calling people black bastards…”
“Yes, I can. “I have Islamic friends, I am not racist.
“I was using very obvious insensitive things to see their reaction.
“And the reactions from some people were over the top.
“I was trying to get a reaction.
“Black bastards, Jews, Muslims, Greeks, it’s all just words.
“My brother in law is a black bastard - and I am a white bastard.”
Then he turned on me.
“The Star is not in a position to take the moral ground on the language they use.
“You use very figurative language to describe criminals from a certain area but you wouldn’t use the same language about the bankers.”
I protested, weakly, that we were going after the bankers big time - but he was in full flow now.
“If you want to put down these things as a way of taking the sting out of what I said to Pat Kenny, you go ahead and say what you want.
“My principles stand for themselves.
“You don’t even know the basis of what went on.”
Oh, eh right. Our carefully planned ambush collapsed as he laughed and asked us:
“Come on, what is Star backwards?”
Rats.
That’s what I was thinking as I slunk back to my car.

September 21, 2009

“I know this is a stupid question, but I’m paid to ask them: how do you feel?”

His face betrays a gamut of emotions: terror, disbelief, despair, denial.
While I shake his hand, he stares off into the distance, as if he is can’t quite comprehend what is happening to him.
He looks as if he hasn’t slept since he walked free from a Garda station, 17 hours earlier: but who could blame him? How could anyone doze off after being grilled by gardai for almost a full day over the violent death of their sister?
As Anthony Ahearne walks towards us, it’s clear to see his world has been turned upside down.

I had seen this photograph of the 31-year-old the previous day, taken a few months, a lifetime, ago.
In the photograph with him is his sister Brenda, whose death he was questioned about all day Wednesday last week. They are celebrating her 30th birthday and both are clearly happy. It was taken in March, just six months ago. Brenda's sister Lisa is on the right.
But now in the flesh, Anthony looks completely different. The confident, relaxed, smile has dissipated. He seems to have shrunk, to have somehow gotten younger. As he approaches me and photographer Karen Morgan, I mistake him for a teenager.


(This photo, taken by Karen Morgan, shows how much he has changed from the birthday snap. ©Irish Daily Star)
The previous night he had been arrested after Brenda died following an incident at her twin sister Lisa’s home in the city. She suffered a single wound to the head, inflicted by the shaft of a poker. The poker embedded itself into her skull.
When we first heard about the death, it seemed an open and shut case: woman dies of head injuries, her brother in custody. We expected a court appearance in a matter of hours.
But within a few minutes of getting to the Richardson’s Meadows estate in Waterford where Brenda died, it was clear there was more to this story than met the eye.
A neighbour who spoke to Lisa’s partner John Kenny as the paramedics fought to save Brenda said he told her it was an accident, that Anthony was waving the poker about during a row and that the shaft broke off and slammed into her head.
A few hours later, John Kenny turns up and I speak to him. He fights back tears as he insists it was nothing more than an accident.
“It just flew through the air like a spear,” he maintains.
I check with a Garda contact. Could that really have happened? It’s possible, he says, warily. But the contact did confirm the poker was embedded in her head and, crucially, that there were no other injuries: whatever happened, Brenda had not been the subject of a sustained attack.
The next day, we write that the family insist it was an accident – other media outlets say she had been bludgeoned to death.
That’s the benefit of going to a scene rather than trying to cover a death from your office: you’ll always get something extra – whether it be an interview with a loved one or a snippet of information that changes everything.
Early the next day, I heard the news that Anthony had been released without charge: I knew that meant gardai were at least looking at the possibility Brenda’s death was an accident. If they felt they could prove she was assaulted, he would have been in court in a few hours.
I also know that, now he is out, there is a chance he’ll speak to us. Again, I head down to Waterford, negotiating with the Ahearnes all the way down from Dublin.
Eventually, after pleading, cajoling, begging and harassing the family for the whole day, Anthony agrees to meet us at 5pm.
We met in a car park in Waterford City, around 16 hours after he had been released from Garda custody.
He looks shattered, broken. A shell of a man.
There is no small talk. He stands glumly with his sister, Brenda’s twin Lisa, as well as her partner John Kenny and two of the dead woman’s three kids. They are standing by him. He looks grateful for the support.
I take the rest of them into the pub and offer to buy the kids a drink: they politely decline. Karen stands outside having a smoke with Anthony.
After a few minutes, he comes into the pub. He is ready to talk.
It was not an easy interview. He didn’t want to - refused to - talk about the actual events, but wanted to get across that whatever happened has been a mistake.
The conversation is stilted, awkward even: I try to draw him out, but his defences are understandably up.
And then I ask a silly question. As is my wont.
“I know this is a stupid question,” I say, “but I’m paid to ask them: how do you feel?”
What do I expect him to say? Great? Relieved not to be charged? Just wanna put it all behind me? You know yourself?
Of course I know how he feels – I can see it in his eyes. Put coarsely, he is fucked. But there’s no point me guessing that – I need him to tell me.
He looks at me as if I’m a muppet, as if it’s the most idiotic question that has ever been put to him.
But he starts talking.
“I will never be able to forgive myself,” he tells me.
He speaks of how he held Brenda in his arms as she slowly died; how he kissed her and told her to hang in there; how he begged her to stay alive; how he’ll never be able to forgive himself.
Stupid question number two from me: do you think you’ll ever get over this?
He stares at me. I can tell he’s thinking that really is the most stupid question ever. How could he ever do that? How could he ever put this behind him?
“I will never get over this. It will stay with me until I check out,” he says.
The interview is over a few moments later and we rush back to my car, a deadline looming.
As we work on our laptops, the Ahearnes walks past. Anthony is surrounded by his family.
But he has never been more alone.

July 19, 2009

“He ruined my life...he ruined our mother’s life.”

She walks into the court, accompanied by the garda who had been with her 11 years earlier. Back then, she was a terrified 14-year-old, sitting in a room off the court, getting ready to give her evidence to the judge and jury via videolink.
It was a year after Simon McGinley raped her when she was just 13. It was a year after she had secretly, unwillingly, hit the headlines as the C case girl.
Now, she is a 25-year-old woman, still terrified, still damaged. But, somehow, she summoned up the strength to sit in the body of court number one and face her tormentor, the man who still comes at her and rapes her in her nightmares.
She sat right at the back of the court, occasionally looking over at Simon McGinley as Mr Justice George Birmingham told him he was jailing him for 21 years – although in reality with remission and having been in prison for a year already he’ll be free in 15.The only people she talked to was her garda, now a sergeant, and a family member of the victim of the latest woman raped by McGinley. An 85-year-old pensioner, for heaven’s sake.
The judge hit the nail on the head. “It is hard to come to terms with the fact that the same person is capable of raping a 13-year-old girl and then an 85-year-old woman.” Quite.
After the sentence is handed down, the judge rises for a few minutes. McGinley’s first victim quietly gets up from her seat and walks out. She’d seen what she wanted, needed, to see.
I rang her earlier in the day to tell her McGinley was up for sentencing for his latest rape. She rang me back a few minutes later to say she was coming down, that she had to see him being sentenced.
I met her at the Luas stop outside the Four Courts and walked her in to the complex, telling her to walk a few feet behind me just in case any photographers saw me with her and put two and two together.
By the time she got into court, the daughter of the now 86-year-old woman destroyed by McGinley had had her say. The victim impact statement was delivered with a dignity that was spellbinding. She essentially said McGinley had destroyed her mother’s life.
The C case woman never got a chance to tell a judge the damage McGinley had done to her. So here is part of an interview I did with her last month in which she does just that. Below that, I’ve put in the impact statement from the latest victim’s family.
This animal destroyed two women; a lady and a child.If you want to know what rape does to a victim and their family, read the two statements.
First, the child:

He raped me the whole night.
“He kept stopping and raping me, stopping and raping me, stopping and raping me.
“He must have raped me about 10 times that night and then dropped me home and put a knife to my throat and said ` if you tell anybody I’m going to kill you and your family’.
“He just had no remorse in him, he had no feelings. It was like he didn’t care what he did.
“It’s like there is no fear, it’s like the devil is in him – the devil is in him.
“I am still, to this day, terrified if he comes near me.
“I hardly ever leave this apartment.
“The only time I leave this apartment is to bring the child to school, then straight back again. I get my money on Wednesday, do my shopping and straight back again.
“I don’t go out at the weekends. The last time I went out, me and my friend, some fella approached me and said `You’re the girl that was raped by Simon McGinley, aren’t you?’ That just turned me off going out, so I just don’t go out.
“I’ve set myself on fire, I’ve cut my arms, I’ve been and out of Portrane.
“It does not go away, the feelings don’t go away. The nightmares don’t go away.
“I can’t sleep. I have big massive bags under my eyes from not sleeping. I’m on sleeping tablets.
“About four hours sleep will have every night – sometimes even less.
“One time I was down in Woodie’s and I thought I saw a man like him. I was with my sister in a car and I just shouted `get out, get out, get out.’ I was afraid for my life.
“I’ve been in and out of hospitals.
They sent me to Warrenstown House, I stayed there for a year – that’s a children’s psychiatric hospital in Blanchardstown.
“I was in there for a year, highly medicated.
“I’ve been in and out of hospital a good few times.
“It’s hard but my little fella keeps me going. Only for him I would probably be 10 feet under the ground at this stage.
“I’ve tried to take my own life. I was in a coma, it was an overdose and my sister found me in the bedroom and that was only last year.
“I set myself on fire twice when I was in care and then I set myself on fire when I was on Portrane Hospital on the day of my 19th birthday.
“The fear. I just couldn’t hack it. Sometimes it just gets so unbearable that you just can’t cope with it anymore.
“You just can’t get him out of your head.
“He has ruined my life, he has ruined my life.
“You may say he has taken over my life, but I’m trying not to let him.
“I’m trying to get him out of my head, that’s why I’m going for counselling now.
“I feel like I’m choking because he was choking me and holding my mouth. I wake up all sweaty from having that dream.
“I remember trying to escape out of the van that night and he ran after me and grabbed me by the throat, shoved me back into the van and drove somewhere else and raped me again.”


Now, this is victim impact statement of the daughter of the lady he raped in her own home in June last year:

“My mother was a courageous, resourceful woman who raised 10 children in difficult times.
“It wasn’t until she was in her sixties that she had the leisure and the modest financial means to begin to really enjoy her life.
“She loved to travel and made regular trips to visit family and friends in England, Europe, America as well as the four corners of Ireland and was still doing so up until the time of the rape last year.
“Her greatest passion was gardening and she spent countless hours tending her plants and visiting famous gardens wherever she went.
“She relished all these pleasures with enthusiasm and engagement.
“It is true that she had, in recent years, become forgetful mislaid things and needed help in navigating any complicated paperwork but she was still able to drive her limited routes, to run her home and to function effectively on her own.
“She valued and was proud of her independence.
“All that capability was dramatically swept away almost overnight last June.
“The family is in no doubt that the rape by Simon McGinley led to a marked acceleration of her incipient dementia.
“It very quickly became clear that she could no longer function on her own, as before.
“She now needs someone to be with her at all times, to drive, shop, cook, clean – to effectively take over the running of her life.
“A second consequence of the rape has been an abiding fearfulness that is never far from my mother’s sense of her life now.
“The sight of an unfamiliar face, a man passing the kitchen window, an unexpected knock at the door can be a cause now of extreme anxiety for her.
“Fear is never far from the surface.
“Bad as these two consequences of the assault are, the most heartbreaking result is the loss of joy from my mother’s life.
“There has been a complete rupture with all the activities that gave her life pleasure and meaning.
“She is no longer interested in meeting with friends, no longer goes to mass, no longer travels and above all no longer cares about her garden.
“The spark that lit up her days has gone forever.
“Instead of the gradual, easeful decline into advanced years that her own parents had enjoyed, our mother was taken from the still golden phase of her life and thrust brutally into its terminal stages by Simon McGinley’s crime.”

One man did this. He destroyed two lives. And he doesn’t give a shit.

June 30, 2009

Genuflecting your way out of dodge.

I loiter in the park across the road from the church, plucking up the necessary courage.
Eventually, after a few minutes’ prevarication, I know I have no choice. I come out of the park, cross the road and walk slowly through the car park of St. Joseph’s, my heart pounding.
Normally I don’t have a problem doing high profile funerals. Like most reporters who cover them, I have my own way of doing things - a technique that has stood by me and got me out of there in safety for more than a decade.
Some reporters look completely conspicuous at funerals, walking into the church with their eyes wide open in fear, a notebook in one hand, a pen in the other. They stick out like a sore thumb, especially when they congregate together. Like sheep.
I usually dress down, maybe in a shirt and jeans, rather than a suit. I’m not trying to show any disrespect to anyone - it’s just that I don’t want to look like a reporter. Some of my colleague joke that my undercover outfit actually makes me look like a cop. All I need is a doughnut, but I’ve had too many of them so I’ll pass on that.
In the church, I try to hide in plain view. I ignore my colleagues, and they do the same to me. I walk in, trying not to show any hesitation. Without breaking my stride, I focus on one pew and head for it, as if I know the church really well.
Then I sit there, surrounded by other mourners for the duration of the funeral mass. I have a small digital Dictaphone in my hand, which I turn on just before I enter the church. It stays on until I leave the church, usually at communion. With luck, nobody even notices me. Job done.
But the funeral of Patrick Eugene Holland was no normal funeral. And I was extremely nervous as I opened the door of St. Joseph’s Church in Bonnybrook, Coolock, north Dublin at 10.40am on Monday.
There were two main reasons for my trepidation.
I like to think that I’m anonymous, that nobody knows me. I’m not one of these high profile reporters whose name and photographs are everywhere. I don’t really do television, so I always think that I can walk down any street and nobody would recognise me.
But I received a phone call a few minutes before the funeral was about to begin. It let me know there was a problem. Photographers Mick O’Neill and Jim Walpole had both been assigned to cover the funeral. They had taken up positions in different areas, ready to shoot anyone who went in to the church. As I stood in the park, getting ready to go into the church, Mick rang me. He told me that some men who I really did not want to be there had just walked into the church.
Each of them would recognise me and each of them would be far from happy when they saw me.
Then there was the rest of the mourners. We knew it was going to be a small funeral, but not that small. There were only around 50 mourners - the church could easily hold 400. I knew there would be nowhere for me to hide.
But I knew I couldn’t stay away. The story was too big and there were at least three other reporters inside. I couldn’t let them get the scoop and go back empty handed to the office. Fear is a great motivator and I’m more afraid of failure than than I am of most criminals.
So I entered the church.
It went wrong as soon as I got to the door. It opened well enough, but when I tried to let it close smoothly (and quietly) behind me, it became stuck. I then spent what felt like hours trying to pull it closed.
When I turned around and faced the congregation, several people were staring at me - including the men who did not want me there. I felt their eyes boring into me.
But I’d come too far to stop. I started walking, heading to my right where a sea of pews awaited me. Like before, I tried to show no hesitation. I told myself when I was going in to turn right and that’s just what I did. The only problem was that the aisle I picked was empty; I was literally the only person on that side of the church. I thought, briefly, of stopping and heading to the centre aisle where most mourner were sitting. But I immediately ruled that out: it would have been far too conspicuous.
I picked a pew, genuflected, and sat down, glancing down at the Dictaphone hidden in my hands to make sure the red recording light was glowing red.
Fr Kevin Moore delivered a fine sermon.
Dutchy Holland was someone whom I interviewed in the Rome apartment of his lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano in April 2007. He was an immensely personable, likeable even, man.



Me interviewing Dutchy Holland in Rome. Copyright Irish Daily Star

I had a good chat with him for about an hour and it was only at the end that I knew he was a killer. I asked him if he had, as gardai are satisfied, killed Veronica Guerin. He replied simply: “No. No way.” But I could tell he was lying. He hadn’t even managed to convince himself he was innocent. So he’ll be remembered as the man who shot dead an Irish crime reporter to most people.
But not to his family.
As Fr Kevin said, they remember a loving, caring uncle and granduncle.
“Patrick’s instincts were always to be helpful to others,” he said.
“He enjoyed swimming and in his younger days saved a person from drowning by jumping in to save him.
“They recall the person that they knew and the good home and background from which he came.
“The fondness that they always had for him will linger on.”
Dutchy was loved by some people.
Just as we sat down after a Hail Mary, I felt my mobile phone vibrate in my pocket.
Because I was at the funeral and was trying to keep my head down, I was not going to answer it. But something, perhaps a sixth sense, made me take it out of my jeans pocket.
I looked at the message and froze.
It was from another reporter in the church. It simply said: “X and X have clocked you and look angry.”
Oh shit.
I put the phone back in my pocket, considered things for a millisecond and got up. There's no point in being a hero. Anyway, I had gotten what I went there for, the priest's sermon. Time to get out of dodge.
I left the pew, genuflected and walked calmly, but quickly, out of the church.
I didn’t look back until I was out of the church grounds. Then I snatched a quick glance to see if anyone had followed me out. There was nobody there.
I had parked my car about 500 metres away and made sure no-one was following me before I got into it and drove off.
It was only when I was about a mile away that I finally relaxed.
I knew I was safe. Until next time.

June 7, 2009

“I’m sorry. I’m truly, deeply, sorry.”

“There he is Jim! There.”
“Where? Where?” Jim Walpole replies, looking in two directions at the same time as he instinctively brings his camera up, ready to shoot.
“He’s standing directly opposite us, on the other side of the road,” I say, nodding as subtly as I can towards our target, Martin Kirwan. Up until a few months ago, he was one of the senior commanders of the Irish Civil Defence; a real pillar of society. Today, however, he is up in front of Judge Patrick Clyne in court 46 of Dublin District Court at the Bridewell, beside the Four Courts complex. He is up on charges of indecently assaulting a young boy 20 years ago.
We really need his photograph. We’ve been waiting at the entrance to the court for almost an hour: now he’s in our sights. We have to get him.
I need not worry: the ever dependable Jim has him. “Okay. I see him. Don’t move. Stay there and don’t move an inch – I’m going to get him from here.” For once, my bulk comes in useful as Jim snaps Kirwan over my shoulder. The target didn’t see a thing: he’s too busy hugging three women, either friends or family, who are standing by him. Kirwan then walks towards us and Jim steps out of my shadow to hose him down. Kirwan doesn’t even break his stride. He keeps walking, ignoring Jim as he fires off shot after shot from just a few feet away.
We satisfy ourselves that the man we photographed is Kirwan. Jim’s work is done: mine is just about to begin.
I follow him into the court complex. I turn into the joint entrance to two courts, go up the stairs and turn right into 46. As soon as I walk in, I scan the body of the court for Kirwan. I quickly spot him, sitting on the second bench back, with his female supporters. A few moments later, Judge Clyne enters and it begins.
Kirwan was the first person on the list and his case is called quickly. But the acoustics inside court 46 are appalling and I struggle to hear what the judge is saying. As this is an indecent assault case, I’m expecting it to be held in camera. In this case, it means the public will be told to leave and only people directly connected to the hearing will be allowed to stay – and bona fide journalists. I hear the judge mention the phrase and get ready to show my press pass to prove I’m a working reporter.
But, rather than ordering the court to be cleared, the judge gets up and walks out, telling the court he should be back in five minutes. About 10 people walk after him, heading through a door to the right of the bench.
I quickly realise this is going to pose me a problem: the judge is going to hear the case in his chambers, rather than clearing a packed court. But how the hell am I going to get in? You can’t just walk into a judge’s private room...
As my panic mounts that I’m going to miss the whole thing, the Garda sergeant who accompanied the judge out of the court comes back in. I approach him and ask if I can cover the case. He goes back to the judge and, a few moments later, returns and asks me and another reporter for our ID. Once he’s happy, he leads us into the judge’s chamber.
I was thankful for two things: firstly that the judge let us in and, secondly, that I was there to witness one of the most moving and dignified and uplifting, but heartbreaking court cases that I’ve ever attended.
There were around 12 people in the small room. As soon as we walked in, the injured party said he was happy for the case to be covered and that he wanted Kirwan named in the media – but he wanted nothing printed that could identify him. I had to say a few words to the Judge, to assure him that we would abide by that. (I get nervous when a judge addresses me: the last time was about four years ago when my mobile phone went off in court. That was fun.) Once Judge Clyne was satisfied, the proceedings began.
Kirwan had pleaded guilty in a previous hearing to several counts of indecent assault on the then boy in 1988 and 1989.
Now it was the victim’s turn to talk.
He stood opposite the judge, dignified and proud in an immaculate suit. His wife stood right beside him, on his left, gently consoling him, being there for him. His mother sat down a few feet away from him, a family friend comforting her, braced for what she was about to hear.
The victim, now in his late 30s, tried not to cry as he described the devastating effect Kirwan’s abuse has had on him for the last 20 years. He tried to keep the tears at bay, but he simply couldn’t. The more he spoke, the more upset he got. He spoke of the trust that he felt for Kirwan as a child; how he felt privileged because Kirwan treated him as an adults; how Kirwan’s abuse led to him suffering depression for more than a decade.
All the time his mother was sitting, in tears, close by. It was hard enough to look at the victim, but almost impossible to look at his mother. What, I kept wondering, must she be thinking during this victim impact statement? How hard must it be for her to sit there and listen to her beloved son talking about how this man had abused him, not once, but several times. You can only imagine the pain she has felt and will continue to feel because of the actions of Kirwan, previously a highly regarded member of the community in Dunboyne, Co Meath, where the abuse took place.
Then Kirwan opened his mouth and said something that it looked like the victim and his family had been waiting more than two decades to hear: sorry.
“I’m truly, deeply sorry,” he said as the victim held his gaze.
He offered €3,000 in compensation – but the victim said he didn’t want his money, so it was split between One in Four and the ISPCC. He’ll be sentenced in November.
I think the victim got something much more important than money that day: validation.
I’ve spoken to loads of victims of abuse over the year and they are always eager for the abuser to be named – and perhaps shamed - in the media. Looking at this case, it suddenly hit me why. The abuse that children suffer is always in secret, hidden away so that only the victim and the perpetrator know about it: one is either to afraid or ashamed to talk about it, the other is not going to tell anybody what he is doing.
So the abuser’s reputation is untrammelled: they are often pillars of society, like Kirwan. Only the victims know the truth. All the time the victim is being abused, or suffering the horrendous after effects of the abuse, the abuser is well regarded in his community. That’s why the victims oftentimes seek the abuser to be named. They want the world to know what they – and only they – have known for so long: that the person who abused them was not the saint that everyone thought.

May 4, 2009

That's a really stupid question

THE mobile buzzes gently to let me know I have a message.
I pick it up and have a look, hoping it’s a contact with a good story.
No such luck. Instead it is from a colleague who was with me at a press conference held by the Garda Representative Association in Killarney, Co Kerry a few hours earlier.
He was listening to the recording he made of the conference – and felt compelled to tell me how much of a muppet I was.
“Just listening bak to my tape,” the text said, “Why do u ask so many stupid questions? I know ur stupidity levels are out of ur control, but please reduce number of questions. Thank you.”
I thought this was actually a tremendously funny text and you really need to know the personality of the texter to realise the spirit in which it was sent. I just laughed and showed it to everyone. They laughed as well.
At least he said thank you. And he probably had a point on this occasion; I suppose I did hog the press conference somewhat.
But it was one of the few times my career where I can think of the two things in which I am interested most – crime and languages – were together. I was always fascinated by crime and studied Italian and French at university, so the press conference obviously attracted my interest. (As an aside, I’d strongly advise any young person who wants to be a reporter to study languages. It opens up a lot of doors. And if you speak a language, you’ll get foreign gigs much more often than some hack who relies on speaking loudly and slowly in English to a Spanish cop or Italian politician. My language skills have got me to some weird and wonderful locations I would otherwise never have seen were it not for work. I also think foreign language training helps with your journalese.)
The speaker at the presser was Detective Garda Tom O’Sullivan, who is attached to the Interpol National Central Bureau at Garda HQ in Phoenix Park. He’s also a qualified interpreter and translator; so he clearly knows his stuff.
He was worried that there was no vetting in their home countries of foreign interpreters working for gardai in Ireland: there’s not much point checking them on the Irish system without being able to confirm that they are conviction free in whatever part of the world they come from.
He was also concerned at the possibility that foreign gangs could plant members of their outfit into a Garda station as an interpreter. That stands to reason. If there are no checks in someone’s own country, it’s quite clear the system is open to abuse. His points were well made. I hope I didn’t bore him too much.
But I did ask more than my fair share of questions, hence my colleague’s kind text message.
Like most newspaper reporters, I tend not to ask too many questions at press conferences. In my line of work, the pressers I attend are usually after murders. I, and other paper people, usually leave the questions to the broadcasters. They need quotes from the local superintendent, or chief, for the TV or radio. They need the basics: the what, when and where of the murder for their next broadcast. They have to be there for that – we lazy paper reporters can simply lift those details from the news. There’s not much point in asking the who or why at any press conference. They won’t tell you. So it’s much better to speak to someone off the record, and away from the cameras, for the really important information. In addition, broadcasters like to be seen, and heard, asking the questions – I think their editors believe that helps their station brand. That’s fair enough.
And, sometimes, you don’t have any questions to ask. It’s actually hard, particularly at the start of your career to ask questions of someone, especially in authority. Sometimes your mind goes blank, followed by your face turning red.
Also, you really have to be fully prepared before asking some people questions – any weakness and your part and you target will turn on you. The two people I prepared most before I rang them were Ian Paisley Junior and President Mary McAleese, when she was a law professor at Queen’s University of Belfast in the mid 1990s. They were both the same. They let you ask a question and then demolished you if there was any wriggle room, or mistake, in what you had put to them. It was great training, however. You soon learned to stop asking silly questions.
For me, the worst I ever heard of was in the aftermath of a gangland murder last year in Dublin. There was a press conference the next day, a Saturday, so I wasn’t there. But a pal rang me a short time afterwards, convulsed with laughter. The victim had been shot as he enjoyed a pint in a pub, before the killers fled.
In the scrum of the press conference the next day, the Super was fielding the usual questions, when a hack asked him: “So, did the killers make an immediate escape?” What did the reporter think the gunmen did, have a pint themselves before casually strolling out of the pub?
Sometimes it’s better not to stick your head above the parapet at a press conference – or you’ll get a text like I did at the GRA.

April 5, 2009

I spy with my little eye...

A sudden movement in the rear view mirror catches my eye. A car is coming towards us from behind. It weaves from left to right as it drives up the road, coming to a stop a few feet behind us. I turn around and look. It takes a few instants for my brain to figure out that the writing on the bonnet – ECILOP in thick blue lettering – is supposed to be read in a mirror.
“Oh Shit, Mick,” I hiss at my colleague, photographer Mick O’Neill. He’s sitting in the back of the people carrier. “What?” he asks. He still keeps his eyes on our target, a building 100 yards away on a road that snakes away from the one where we are sitting. “It’s the cops.” I say. “Oh. Right,” he says, calmly. I feel my face burning. I hate cops coming up to you when you are on a stake-out. You never know whether they are going to say `cool’ and leave us at it – or tell us they’ll arrest us if we don’t move on. We’ve had complaints, you know.
The complaint came from a local citizen. As the cops grilled us in a polite and friendly way, he lurked at his driveway, about 10 yards away.
It came as no surprise that the cops were on to us. We’d been sitting at the same spot for, by that stage, three days, or around 36 hours. In the movies, you can do a stake-out for that length of time with no problem – in the real world, you’re spotted within minutes. After that, it’s only a question of whether people confront you themselves, or call the police: in this case it was both.
Mick and I were in Locks Heath, a suburb of Southampton. We were looking for Bob Campion, the third leg of the ménage a trois involving David Bourke and Jean Gilbert. While we were there, the jury in Bourke’s murder trial was out, considering its verdict. Campion had not come over to Ireland for the trial; we knew we had to get him. By the time we got there on the Friday, he’d already down an exclusive sit-down interview with The Irish Daily Mail and, as it turned out, the Irish Independent used a local agency to get a few words with him. No pressure, so.
The only problem was there was no sign of him when we arrived. After about four hours sitting 30 odd yards from his ground floor flat, I lost the head and decided to knock. There was no space for Mick to get a photo as the flat is surrounded by trees and a shed. But at least we’d know if he was there. Foremost in my mind was the fact that we’d be wasting time and money if we camped out here – and he was not. Or worse, just say some paper had bought him up and he was enjoying some hotel somewhere, while we were sitting outside his flat in a rented Zafira for days on end.
But when I knocked, there was no sign of him and it looked as of the flat was deserted. So we settled down to wait. And wait. And wait. And then wait some more.
People started no give us strange looks after around 30 minutes. I was in the driver’s seat; Mick in the back. Mick looking towards the flat complex, me looking in the rear view mirror, just in case. At first, people simply walked past, assuming we were workmen or visitors to other houses. Then, when they came back, they saw we were still there and, understandibly, became suspicious. Nobody approached us on day one: we were there from midday to 11pm. Nor was there any sign of Campion.
The next day, we got there at 4.30am. We had learned that Campion did night work, so we had to get there early, just in case he finished his shift at that time. We parked up, just as dawn was breaking. Nothing. Not a thing all day. By 8pm, the night had come – Mick remarked it was the first time he’s ever seen the dawn and dusk in the same job. I had to agree. We’d whiled away the hours listening to radio, talking crap and constantly scanning the area for Campion. We'd even played I Spy. I won hands down. I broke his serve when I guessed AV was the air vent on an old people’s home opposite us. He couldn’t get D for daffodils, either.
At around 3pm a neighbour approached us. “Curiosity has got the better of me...” “Ah,” I said. “We’re journalists from Ireland and we’re here hoping to talk to a man who lives down there,” I said, pointing to Campion’s flat. “He hasn’t done anything wrong, but he has been mentioned in a high profile murder case. He was the boyfriend of a woman who was killed by her husband. We just want to give him an opportunity to talk to us. But we have to wait for him to come...” “That’s fine,” he smiled. “Very interesting, actually. A murder case, you say. How exciting.”
So the hours passed. The neighbour would occasionally come out of his house, see us and nod conspiratorially towards us.
We were back the next day, a Sunday, at the same time. By 1pm we were going out of our minds with boredom, so the arrival of the second man at least broke the tedium.
I lowered the window and greeted him. “Hello,” he said. “I’m the local neighbourhood watch secretary and I just wonder what you are doing here. You have been noticed by a good few people...”
I went through the rigmarole of explanation. He then asked me for ID – something at which I silently bridled. There’s only one group in society to whom I have to show credentials – police. Everyone else can kindly go away. I made an exception in this case – hoping that would placate him and he wouldn’t call the boys in blue. I grudgingly showed him my card.
He nodded and walked away. But 15 minutes later the cops arrived. Mr Neighbourhood Watch had tried to contact my newsroom on the numbers on my card: the only problem was the numbers were Irish and did not have the international code. Hence him not getting through.
The police were actually fine. They took our details, listened to our story and said we weren’t doing anything wrong. Mr Neighbourhood Watch sidled up as we were talking to the police. He made some comment to officer before turning round – and walking straight into a lamppost.
“Now that’s Karma,” I said to the cop, who stifled a laugh.
The cops went away and we waited some more. It was actually the Monday, after 48 hours watching, that Campion emerged. “There he is,” Mick shouted. He hosed him down with his camera from the car, loosing off maybe 30 shots. When he gave the go ahead, certain that he had good pics, I got out of the car and approached him. “Mr Campion, I’m a journalist from Ireland...” “Good for you,” he said and kept walking.
But I managed to persuade him to talk, even though he kept walking up the road. All the while, Mr Neighbourhood Watch was watching from a distance – roaring at us to leave Campion alone.
But the wait was worth it. It always is.

March 22, 2009

“I can’t face that. I can’t. I can’t even think about that.”


As she gets out of the car, I softly shake her hand. I thank her for the interview and tell her I’m going to say a little prayer for her daughter. She smiles, sadly, nods her head and walks away.
I sit back into the car. My colleague Gary Ashe is doing the driving. After a few seconds, he glances over at me and says: “She’s way past the crying stage, isn’t she?” “Yeah,” I reply quietly. We drive on, heading to our hotel, job done. Audrey Fitzpatrick walks into the bar and back to her search for her little girl. Back to her living nightmare.
Gary was right. Audrey was indeed way past the crying stage. It’s more than a year since her daughter Amy Fitzpatrick disappeared as she walked home from a friend’s house in Calahonda, near Fuengirola on Spain’s Costa Del Sol. In the 14 months since her disappearance, Audrey has campaigned tirelessly – desperately - for Amy; for her not to be forgotten. But there has been nothing in return. No sightings; no phone calls; no emails; no sign of life.
But still she goes on with her campaign. Always fighting. Always available. She agreed to meet me and Gary with only half an hour’s notice. We were in Spain last week on another matter – the unsuccessful appeal of Dermot McArdle – around 200 kilometres from Calahonda in the city of Granada, at this court. But we were flying out of Malaga, which was only 30 odd minutes from Audrey, so I gave her a call to see if she would facilitate us with a quick interview. You can never tell when you make such a call: some people won’t be interested, others will be happy to talk.
As soon as I introduced myself over the phone, I knew Audrey would talk to us. She readily agreed to meet us half an hour later in Tricky Ricky’s pub, a de facto HQ forn the Amy campaign. When we got there, she was standing at the bar with a friend. She gave us a big smile and told us she was delighted we had called – anything, she said, to keep Amy’s name in the papers.
But she admitted it’s getting increasingly more difficult to keep the campaign going. Neither she nor her partner, Dave Mahon, have been able to work since Amy disappeared, but they have spent a fortune. “How much?” I ask. “Oh, easily over €200,000,” she replies. She tells me that Dave was able to check his mobile phone and see that he alone has spent €10,000 on credit for it since January 2008.
They had a decent amount of savings, but now they are in serious trouble. Dave is trying to get back into work, but his field – property – is even more badly hit in Spain than in Ireland. They have not paid their €2,000 a month mortgage since Amy vanished – and now the bank have warned them they are in real danger of losing their house.
That would be, she says, devastating on two counts: firstly, no one wants to lose their home. But, probably more importantly, it’s Amy’s home. “I am really desperate to keep the house because Amy could walk back in at any second,” Audrey insisted.
She was telling us this as Gary drive us back to the pub. Minutes earlier, we had taken Audrey to the spot where Amy was last seen, moments after leaving her friend’s house in New Year’s Night. It was obviously distressing for her, but she managed to pose with a poster of Amy for us.
But you can only imagine what was going through her head as she stood at the spot where her young daughter was walking when somebody took her, for that's what probably happened. The likelihood of Amy running away and not being in contact with friends or family is too unrealistic to even contemplate. And as I looked at her graciously posing for Gary, a single thought kept bouncing around my head: how could any parent deal with things Audrey is having to deal with?
How can she function on a day to day basis not knowing where her girl is? She must just be on auto pilot. The agony must be unbearable. Every waking minute, second,is taken up with looking for Amy.
Which is worse, I wondered: the thought that something horrible has happened to Amy –or the fear that something horrible is still happening to her. Both must be unbearable.I asked Audrey, somewhat nervously, if she had accepted the possibility that Amy could be dead. “No,” she said, quickly. “I can’t face that.
I can’t. I can’t even think about that.”
Instead, she is convinced that someone, perhaps someone who knew her, has taken her. She is hoping against hope that the person still has her and will let her free one day.
Maybe events more than 1500 kilometres north east will prove her right: maybe you never should give up hope.
It was nothing more than a coincidence, but while we were talking to Audrey, Josef Fritzl was in the dock in the Austrian town of St. Poelten. It was the Tuesday of Fritzl’s trial when we met Audrey. On that day, Elizabeth Fritzl’s video evidence was played to the jury, so some of the shocking details had emerged by the time Audrey spoke to us.
For me the parallels were stomach churning. As we drove away from meeting her, and after Gary’s comments, all I could think about was this: just say some fucker has Amy in a dungeon somewhere? Just say that poor, defenceless, girl is going through the same hell that Elizabeth suffered? A shiver went down my spine at even the thought of it.
And, as we drive away under the Spanish sun, I say a silent prayer for Amy.

March 8, 2009

“We’re an army fighting an army.”

He sits across from me in the quiet pub. He has a soft and friendly face. After only a few minutes chatting I can tell he’s the sort of fella with whom, in normal circumstances, you’d quite happily shoot the breeze as you drink a pint. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I actually l liked him, but the truth is I got on famously with him. We connected with each other. We could have been friends in other circumstances.
But these weren’t normal circumstances.
The man facing me was far from being a normal person. He was actually a leading member of the Real IRA and he was telling me why he was fighting his war. And all the time, when he’s explaining to me why it’s necessary to take the war to the British, why the Sinn Fein leadership can’t call themselves republicans, why they are the real IRA and why he’ll keep on at it as long as is necessary, there’s one thought swirling through my head. As I listen to him I just keep thinking `how can this guy be so, well, normal?’ He should have two heads or something.
It had taken me months to get to meet him.
It was early 2003 and my friend John Mooney and I were working on our book, Black Operations, the secret war against the Real IRA, at the time. We could have taken the relatively easy way out and relied on the police on either side of the border for our information. We, especially John, had gotten a lot out of the good guys, but we both knew we needed more. We knew there was no point writing about the Real IRA unless we spoke to them.
I’d long had a professional interest in them. After the Omagh bomb in August 1998, they rang me to declare firstly their responsibility for the atrocity and then, a few hours later, a ceasefire. I can still hear the tinny voice – caused by a distorter – as the anonymous caller gave me the statement. When I started to ask him questions, the cheeky fucker simply said: “Michael, we picked you because we thought you wouldn’t ask us anything.” Thanks a bunch.
But receiving a phone call from a paramilitary organisation is one thing: getting to meet a representative face to face is another. How could we get them to talk? There was no secret formula; all we could do was work and work and work until someone agreed to meet us. We went at them from the outside. We spoke to one person who came to trust us. He let another person know we were sound. Finally, after months, he told me to expect a call from someone else.
The call eventually came late on a Thursday, I recall.
It was a private number and he told me his name. It actually wasn’t his name, but the name I had been waiting for. “I understand you want to meet.” “Yes.” “Okay, I’ll see you at 10.30am on Saturday. Be outside XXXXX.” “Grand. How will I know who to meet?” “I’ll know you.” The phone then went dead.
I arrived 10 minutes early. I stood waiting outside the pub in Dublin, nervously scanning the street to see if anyone coming towards me looked like a terrorist. Then I noticed movement to my left. Stupidly, I hadn’t checked the pub itself. He came out of it, quietly called my name and beckoned me in.
As I sat opposite him, I quickly sized him up. Jesus, I thought, he looks like a regular head.
What he was saying, however, was miles away from regular. In a quite well known suburban pub, we spoke about the creation of the organisation, why they split from the Provos in late 1997. He told me of Garda Special Branch bursting in on him and getting him to the ground at gunpoint, his arms behind his back. He spoke somewhat unkindly of one cop I knew –although naturally I didn’t let him know I knew the detective: he really didn’t like him.
He was an extremely articulate man. He told me that, for more than a decade, the IRA had not been killing for the Republic. He and others had seen the writing on the wall for that long. They knew the Provos were shaping up for a settlement well short of a United Ireland. What, he asked, was the point in killing for anything less than a 32 county republic?
He really did believe he was a soldier. More, he believed he was a senior commander of the only, real, army in Ireland. I clearly remember him saying that the strategy was changing from bombs (like Omagh) to killing a soldier. “We’re an army fighting an army,” he said. “We should be taking them on. How better to show that we don’t accept them being here than to go after them?”
The years passed and the meeting – and another I had with him – faded in the memory. Once the book was done, I moved on. Sure, the RIRA were largely a spent force. I concentrated on reporting in drugs, paedophilia and husbands killing their wives. I merely cast an occasional glance at them. I thought, stupidly, they were finished as a force.
All that changed on Saturday night.
John Mooney, who has kept up a professional interest in the RIRA, rang me late in the evening to tell me what had happened in Antrim. I was shocked. He wasn’t. Coincidentally, a few hours earlier he had filed a piece for the Irish edition of the Sunday Times warning the dissidents were intent on shooting members of the security forces. And then the memory of my meeting with the senior man came back to me – especially his belief, hope even, that British soldiers should be targeted.
Most people in Ireland will have been horrified by what happened on Saturday night. But some, maybe even him, will probably be celebrating in a pub tonight.

March 2, 2009

Who's the rat?

He’ll have to go back one day.
He’ll have to walk in and attempt to get back down to work and concentrate on whatever tasks are assigned to him. He’ll have to try, somehow, to put to the back of his mind the terror that has been visited upon him just because he happens to work there
But, most of all, Shane Travers will have to ignore the fact that somewhere in the College Green branch of the Bank of Ireland is the person who betrayed him.
And what’s worse, he won’t have a clue who it is. It could be the guy who passes him on the corridor; it could be the woman who stands a few feet away from him as he goes outside for some air. It could be just about anybody.
Someone in that building is directly responsible for what happened to Shane Travers last Thursday. He, or she, is directly responsible for his girlfriend Stephanie Smith, her mother Joan and nephew Stephen being held at gunpoint, tied up, bundled into a van and dumped in an abandoned house in Co Meath.
Someone, somewhere, in that building sold out his or her colleagues for probably a few hundred grand.
When the dust dies down over the massive Tiger kidnapping last week, when we’ve all largely forgotten about it, Shane Travers will still have to face his demons. He will, unless he is posted somewhere else in the bank, have to work in the same building as the person who set him up. That will be tough – he’s bound to be looking more closely than ever before at everyone who works there, wondering was he or she the one?
As the Garda investigation continues into the raid, officers are fighting several fires at the same time. They are obviously desperate to get their hands on the rest of the €7.6 million that was stolen in the raid. They recovered some €1.8 million when they stopped a car after a chase on the M50 late on Friday night. It was some feat to get any of the money back within such a short period of time - but it means almost €6 million of new and unused Euro notes are still out there.
The Garda units will also be trying to gather enough evidence for the robbers themselves to be charged.
They’re one of the most vicious and prolific in Dublin. They’re all young men, in their 20s, and some of them have a fearsome reputation for violence. In one instance recently one of the 10 or so people involved in the gang even followed a Garda to his home and poured acid on his car, before leaving two shotgun cartridges on the vehicle. If they do that to a Garda, what would they have done to Shane Travers if he put up a fight?
But another key element of the Garda probe will be to get the rat in the bank.
It’s inconceivable that the gang had no internal help in this one – they simply knew too much about the bank. Not only did they know where Shane Travers lived, but they also had key details on other workers in the vault. For example, they gave Mr Travers photographs of the homes of several of his colleagues to show them when he went in to the bank on Friday morning. And they also gave him a photograph they had of one of his bosses. The not so subtle message was clear: if the money is not handed over, we are all in trouble.
That is one explanation why the tight security procedures within the bank were not followed on Friday morning – it wasn’t just one worker who feared for his life; it was all of them.
The gangs and the gardai have been fighting a war for the best part of a decade when it comes to banks and cash. When the criminals carried out good old fashioned armed robberies in branches, the banks invested significant resources in upgrading security there. So then the robbers targeted cash in transit vans – and Achilles heel in terms of security. So, again, the security companies reacted by beefing up security there. Then it was the turn of the criminals to target the weakest link of any security system: the people who use it. Vulnerable security staff were targeted in their own homes and ordered to drop off cash – or else their loved ones would be harmed. Again, cash companies reacted by bringing in new security systems. In the case of security vans, for example, money can only be released centrally, staff have no access to cash and the vehicle itself is monitored by satellite.
When it comes to banks, like College Green, a single employee can’t simply walk in and take out €7.6 million in hard cash. There are other layers of security that will prevent that. Well, that was the theory – but last week showed criminal gangs can be cunning as well as vicious.
They knew they’d fail if they targeted Travers alone. So they encouraged his colleagues to cooperate by informing them they were in just as much danger as he was. The Bank was just lucky the gang didn’t get away with more cash: they gave him four laundry bags, which he filled with €7.6 million. If they’d given him more bags, he’d have filled them too. There was around €100 million in the vault – God knows how much they could have gotten away with.
While gardai are hopeful that they have enough evidence to charge suspects in relation to the incident tonight, it’s clear there are people out there who were heavily involved in this who have not been arrested. They’re sitting back, waiting for the fuss to die down, waiting for the time they can move the cash out of Ireland. All the notes are new, so it will have to be laundered abroad. But, even if they only get one third of their face value, it’s still a huge amount of money.
And there’ll be one bank employee who will be waiting to get a significant cut in return for an act of treachery – unless the gardai come knocking first.

February 18, 2009

Now you weren't talking to me, right?

He sees me just before I see him.
I’m trudging to the front gate of the court complex; he’s walking towards me, sandwiched by two fellow detectives. He’s chatting away with his buddies, but he’s looking in my direction. We’re only 50 odd feet or so away from each other. He’s laughing, but I can see his eyes nervously darting towards me, then away, then back. Then away again. And his pals are looking at me a bit too intently for my liking. Do they know? Have they found out? Or are they just thinking `there’s that prick’?
This is not good. I haven’t told anybody. But has he? I can feel the blood rushing to my face as the space between us is eaten up. Oh Shit. What’ll I do? Will I ignore him? Will I raise my eyebrows subtly as we pass – hoping that nobody notices? Will I just say hello? Don’t be ridiculous. Fuck, what if he says hello to me? I could just turn tail and run...He’s only 20 feet away from me now. This is tricky. Very tricky. I make the wrong decision and we’re finished. Think, for Christ’s sake, think! They’re only a few feet away now. They go quiet as they near.
Then, from somewhere, an idea: a coward’s way out.
Just a few paces before we draw level, I bend down and pretend to tie my lace. In an instant, they are past me. Nothing is said. I get up, shake the dust of my knee and walk in to court. As I enter the packed and claustrophobic Court 45 in the Bridewell complex, just across from the Four Courts, my mobile phone vibrates silently. I take it out of my pocket, look at the message: Dat ws close. Gud tinkin batman! Dose uder 2 tink ur a prik by de way. I smile to myself, happy. Relieved.
Welcome to the world of trying to keep your contacts secret.
Political reporters can be seen having lattes with their TD and spin doctor mates in Leinster House; sports stars, of all codes, are known to have their favourite hacks (or fans with typewriters as I call them when I’m drunk); business journalists go for expensive lunches with their confidantes in the best, most conspicuous, restaurants. And don’t even start me about entertainment reporters...
Crime reporters, on the other hand, ignore some of their best friends when they walk past them in the street.
You could be standing beside one of your best contacts, say in back of a courtroom, and nobody would have a clue. Absolutely nobody. In fact, by the contact’s body language, you’d think the reporter just asked him if his wife accepted all major credit cards. Contempt is one word for what's on the garda's face. Which is great. The last thing you want is any other mule looking over, putting two and two together and getting four. The more members who think the fella beside me thinks I’m a bollox, the better.
And, above all, you never name your contacts in your copy. It’s all about keeping things as vague as possible to protect your people. They could be jailed, fined and sacked if anyone found out, so you’ve got to do everything you can to keep the relationship a secret. In your copy, you’ll say sources, or insiders. You won’t even write detectives or Garda sources – you have to keep it as vague as possible.
In a perfect world, you’d be able to name every garda who give you information for your story. Look at America. Cops there are happy to tell you everything you need to know about a case. They’ll even spell out their name for you, so it goes in the paper properly. In many cases, reporters actually work out of police stations and are given the same incident reports that the local chief of police receives. Anyway, you’re not looking for something that will wreck an investigation: all you want is a few details that will give your readers the impression you actually know what you are talking about. The name of a murder victim would be nice. Or an age, even. An address would be heaven.
But this is not America. Everything is hush-hush. Everything is secret – especially the details of people who talk to us.
So we call them sources. And nobody is satisfied by that.
I got thinking about the whole issue of using the word “sources” a few weeks ago, when I was asked to speak to a meeting of the Press Council of Ireland on the subject.
There were several speakers and probably around 30 people in the room altogether. It was all on off the record, so I can’t go into detail into who said what. But I came away from the meeting on the defensive and depressed.
The impression I got from many attendees at this seminar was that when readers see the word sources in a newspaper they just don’t believe it. Many people see sources and think it’s all made up. I can understand that. There are a few reporters I have no faith in at all. I look at their pieces and ask myself why I can’t get my Garda contacts to speak in such flawless, fluent, journalese like they do?
There was one sort of row when a few people said the word sources should be used in copy where there was no official confirmation to back up the thrust of the story. So, instead of Michael O’Toole will tomorrow be charged with crimes against journalism, it should read Michael O’Toole will tomorrow be charged with crimes against journalism, sources have revealed. The argument was this: if the term sources is appended to the article, the reader will realise it has not been officially confirmed and decide to believe or disbelieve it on that basis. One person insisted that a paper should be able to write the story without any official or unofficial sourcing.
I thought that was nonsense. People need to know that what is written in the paper is confirmed officially, or not.
I use the word sources every day. If I have credibility as a reporter, people will believe that what I am writing is accurate. If I don’t, they won’t. Simple as that. If I have no credibility I am toast.
In the seminar, I was aghast when I heard how one reporter in a broadsheet newspaper was challenged by a superior about a quote attributed to a source. Incredibly, the reporter admitted to not having spoken to the source – and then said `that’s what they would have said if I had spoken to them’. Jesus Christ almighty. If a broadsheet journalist would do that, what hope is there for the rest of us?
And then I realised something. It's not about the paper, it's about the reporter. I know some great reporters who happen to work in tabloids. I know how thorough they are and I believe something when they write it. On the other hand, there are some broadhseet reporters I would not trust as far as I could throw.
Sources is an entirely unsatisfactory term. It’s the chancer journalist’s get out of jail card. They can make up what they want and put it down to sources. Everybody knows it goes on. There’s nothing we can do to stop it.
But there are people out their working their nuts off every day and promising potential and current contacts one simple thing: Nobody will know I was talking to you.
So that’s why we use the word sources. And pretend to tie our shoelaces in the street.

February 9, 2009

Wrong place, wrong time.

Sometimes you can just be unlucky.
You take the wrong turn; you walk down the wrong street; you bump into the wrong person; you get into the wrong car. Through no fault of your own, you are just unlucky. Afterwards, if you survive, you try to rationalise things, ask yourself why what happened to you happened. Was it your fault? Did you look at that person the wrong way? Did you not see the warning signs? Did you not listen to your instinct? But the reality is occasionally there is no explanation bar the obvious one: you were just unlucky.
Sometimes crime is just horrifically random.
It would be comforting in a way if there was a logical explanation for every major crime committed in this country. I remember a few years ago talking to a senior Garda officer who told me something very interesting over a pint. We were chatting about the murder rate and he told me that there had been a certain number of homicides in Ireland the previous year. I can’t be more precise at the moment as some of the cases are still sub judice, but let’s say there were 55 murders that year. He asked me in how many of them did I think there was no link, of any sort, between the victim and the aggressor. By link he meant mother, husband, friend, neighbour, or even the fact that the victim was in one drugs gang and the killer was linked to another. I guessed, not unreasonably in my opinion, about 20.
The answer was actually two.
In only two cases that year had gardai been unable to find a link of any kind between the victim and the aggressor. So, in other words, there were only two real stranger murders in Ireland that year. As it happens, the victims were both women, both victims of a sex killer.
So both those women were unlucky. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time when the killer took them. They’d never met their killer before, never even laid eyes on him. But, in each case, he saw her and went for her. They were both random murders. The killers could have chosen any woman in each case: their victims were just unlucky.
The whole idea of the randomness was brought home to me, again, while reading this truly horrible case. The poor victim was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was on a night out with her boyfriend, needed to use a toilet and to the local Supermac’s in Nenagh. It was just her horrendous, truly horrendous, luck that a beast was waiting for a woman in the toilets. The ordeal he subjected the woman to in the toilets is simply unimaginable.
I know people sometimes read about rapes like this, or a murder, and search for a rational explanation. Understandably, they try to attach meaning to the meaningless because they don’t want to believe that it could happen to them or their loved ones.
I’ve covered too many random murders and rapes to even think of rationalising them. The suffering of the victim in these cases is, of course, not any more valid than the suffering of people who knew their killer or know their rapist. But, for some reason, it is these random attacks that stay with me. I know they’ll stay with me forever. It must be the whole idea that, but for a shitty bit of fate, the victims’ lives would have been so completely different.
And it’s particularly bad when it comes to young people. Young kids who had so much hope in their eyes, cruelly snuffed out because of bad luck.
I think of Siobhan Hynes and Alan Higgins a lot. Even now, years after their murders, I can still see their faces as I type. Look at the photographs of them, you can see the bright light of hope in their eyes. They literally have their whole life ahead of them as they smile, innocently, at the camera. If they had lived, they’d both be mature adults by now, they’d probably be fretting about the recession, just like the rest of us. But they didn’t get a chance to grow. Both their lives were snuffed out just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Siobhan Hynes, a beautiful young girl, met her death because – like the Nenagh rape victim – she stopped off in a fast food joint to go to the toilet. There she had the misfortune to meet one of the most evil people I’ve ever seen in a courtroom. John McDonagh was animal. He gave her a brutal death, stripping her of all dignity, before throwing her in the sea. A few days after his conviction, I tracked down a prostitute he attacked before the murder. Even then, years later, you could still see the fear in her face. She was lucky to survive him. Siobhan was unlucky. She died just a week after her 17th birthday. She’d be 27 now.
Alan Higgins, a young man who had beaten Leukaemia as a child, had a great future ahead of him. He came from a decent family in Donaghmede and wanted to be an architect. He was at the cinema with his girlfriend and had just said goodnight to her when another youngster – younger than him – robbed him of his mobile. He died after being stabbed in the struggle.
Two vibrant, optimistic, people gone. No explanation. No reason.
They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

February 8, 2009

Irish Times Weekend piece on Mick Moran

This is an interview carried out by Mary Minihan in the Weekend section of The Irish Times.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2009/0207/1233867924633.html

February 2, 2009

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.

You can't escape the screams.
You can clamp shut your eyes, turn your back on the screen, scurry to the other end of the room, do plenty to get away from the images. But there's nothing you can do to get the screams out of your head.
At first, it was only the baby's wails of agony that pierced the silence, but then I noticed I was hearing another another person screaming. And then I realised it was me. Horrific is a word I over use: but this was horrific. It's the only way of describing what was in front of me. Even now, more than a year after seeing what I saw, I'm still haunted by the video. The truth is I didn't, couldn't, watch the whole thing. I managed only to look, with my eyes peeking through my fingers, for a few seconds before running away. But no matter where I went in that room, the screams chase after me. Both his and mine.
The baby could not be more than six months old. The man standing over him is his `father'. In the grainy video, it's clear to see what the father is doing to his baby boy. Your instinct is to smash through the screen and rescue the infant, beat five colours of shit out of the fucker who is doing those things to him and take the baby in your arms to protect him. And when you've done that, kick his father again. Just to make sure.
But, of course, there's nothing you can do except close your eyes and run away.
The video my colleague Jim Walpole and I saw was played for us inside one of the warren of rooms of the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, southern France. It was just one of a number of images a Garda officer, Detective Sergeant Michael Moran, showed us that day. It was a week or so after D/Sgt Moran - on secondment from the Garda Siochana with Interpol - had hit the headlines over Operation Vico.
The Criminal Intelligence Officer coordinated the international hunt for Neil, who photographed himself abusing young kids in south east Asia. Neil, a Canadian, got what was coming to him late last year when he was jailed in Thailand for abusing the kids. We were there to give Mick a Star/TV3 Best of Irish Award. In return, he gave us a brief glimpse of hell.
Mick keeps an outsized pair of headphones in his office. It's not so that he can listen to his bad music in peace. It's because people walking along the corridor outside his office complained about the sounds of babies and children crying as they were being abused in the videos Mick has to watch every day. Next time you think your job is tough, think of Mick and think again.
This is one of his favourite quotes: "There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter." Hemingway wrote that. It sums up perfectly Mick's job. Catching animals like Neil must be one hell of a buzz. Mick searches he internet for images of child abuse. he looks at each photo or video for clues that help him track down not only the victim but also the abuser. They're the bad days. The good days are when he gets to see shits like Neil caught. He recalled to me and Jim how he encountered Neil in the Thai police station after he was arrested. Mick was the only other Westerner there and Neil foolishly thought he could bond with the no nonsense Meath man. He looked up at him and shrugged his shoulders as if to say `This is a bit of a mess'. Mick just stared at him and didn't say a word. Neil looked away.



(This photo, taken by Jim Walpole, shows Mick Moran at his desk in Interpol. Note the Irish flag at the forefront and those outsized headphones behind him on the wall. I've crudely hidden what was on his computers. You don't want to know. © The Irish Daily Star.)

The little baby was called Baby Hee. What we were watching was an infamous video of child, baby, abuse. D/Sgt Moran occasionally uses it when giving talks to law enforcement personnel around the world on the reality of what he deals with on a day to day basis. He assured me my reaction was not unique. For the record, the father got caught. He's in jail in central Europe, but will be released soon. At least the baby was rescued.
And it wasn't only Baby Hee. There was a young girl who her father persuaded to do unspeakable poses for the camera. The smile on his face as she does his evil bidding was obscene. He was caught as he prepared to swap her with another paedophile's daughter. Both girls were rescued.
Looking at the images (which I have to say make you sick to the stomach for the abuse that is being perpetrated in them but also because it's mostly fathers doing it to their own kids and putting the pictures on the Internet) was a deeply distressing experience. I wasn't the same for weeks. It still affects me now.
But, as well as the infernal visions, I took something else away from that trip to Lyon; something much more important.
It was a new determination not to refer to these monstrous images as child pornography. That, to Mick Moran and many others, equates child rape photos to adult pornography. That is, almost always, modeled by men and women who, for whatever reason, voluntarily do what they do. The term child pornography almost softens the obscene.
But with these defenceless young kids, there's nothing voluntary. The reality is they're forced into it by people who have complete control over them. Not only do they abuse them, but they then get their kicks by bragging to other paedophiles and swapping the images with each other. Interpol, and other police agencies, prefer the term child abuse imagery.
Having seen what I saw that October day in Lyon, I can understand why.

January 24, 2009

Grime, ink

I'm wet, miserable and under pressure. The ditch water laps over the top of my shoes and seeps into my socks. The vomit coloured mud attacks the hem of my suit trousers. The ice cold wind seeks out even the slightest bit of exposed flesh. Fuck.
But at least I'm not alone. There are three snappers and a cameraman with me. We're all in the shit together.
And shit there was. Along with a used nappy, empty beer cans, only God knows what household waste - even a Christmas tree that looks as if someone tried to bury it at sea. Behind me to my right, is a burned out motorcycle. To its right, about 100 feet away up a slight rise, lie the remains of a torched car. "Jesus Christ. Is it just me or this place a fucking hole?" one of the photographers asks as he tries to keep himself warm and dry - and get a decent shot at the same time. For anyone who thinks crime reporting is glamorous, this photograph should set them straight pretty quickly...

(© The Irish Daily Star)

It was taken by my colleague Jean Curran last Tuesday morning near the scene of the gun homicide of Stephen O'Halloran in Tallaght late the previous night. He was sitting with two friends in his 97D Renault Megane, parked outside his mother's house on Kilmartin Drive.
It was just before midnight when they came for him. Two men walked up to the car, pulled out a Glock each, and started firing.
O'Halloran was hit several times - the fatal one going in through the neck and ricocheting around his chest. The two young men with him were both hit, but they survived. It barely made the headlines for a day: fewer than 24 hours later another criminal, Graham McNally, was shot six times in the face and dumped on the Ashbourne Road. He was mentioned, without being named, in my previous blog last week: he's a sidekick of The Gangster. He was with him when other criminals tried to kill them. He survived that, but a week later was killed.
We got to Tallaght at around 10am, 10 hours after O'Halloran was shot. The Garda cordon around the murder scene was already well established. White and blue tape, pushed to the limit by the wind, still did its job and stopped us getting anywhere near the spot where the shooting happened. The best shot we could get was on the opposite side of the green. But it was about 300 yards away, and even then we didn't have a straight line of vision: the shooting happened at the end of the cul de sac. We could see nothing. Zilch. Diddly squat.
But there's always a plan B. And that's where the photographers come in.
Snappers really do get the short end of the stick. We indolent hacks can stand around, talk crap to each other, try to speak to a few neighbours, then wander back to our cars and turn the heat on to thaw out. But they can't leave the scene. They are the first media to arrive and the last to leave - long after we've got our angle and disappeared. They have to stay to get the State Pathologist going in and the body coming out.
If the shit really hits the fan, we can subtly put our notebooks in our pockets, pretend not to be there and melt into the background. But with a 300mm lens stuck on the end of his camera, there is nowhere for a picture artist to hide. Not that they would. I'm constantly amazed by their resolve, even in the most dangerous situations. Nothing matters but that which they see in the viewfinder of their camera. The poor fuckers don't even get bylines.
But they are, in essence, shit magnets.
Wherever they go, trouble is usually waiting. Outraged family members, angry friends, weirdo busybodies. They all see a snapper about the place and lose the head. And many of these punters seem to have strange sexual habits as well, judging by the number of times I've seen someone tell a photographer that he would really like to stick that camera up his arse. Whatever turns you on, I suppose.
I'm constantly amazed by the number of reporters who leave their snapper colleagues to their own devices. There are countless stories of reporters simply abandoning their photographer colleagues, friends even, when trouble erupts. I try to stick with the snapper as much as possible. When they're in trouble they need somebody with them, even if it's only for moral support. At gangland funerals, for example, I'll stand right beside the photographer just in case - most other hacks would choose to sit in their car, anonymous and safe. Not that I'd be any good in a fight, but at least they might think twice if there are two of us.
That's why I ended up in that sodden field behind the murder scene in Tallaght on Tuesday morning. We're all in this together. If they have to walk through the mud, so do we. One of the snappers realised that there was a field behind the murder scene that might give a better chance of a picture. So we all slogged together through the watery field until we came to a 10 foot high wall, behind which was the murder street. Luckily, someone had decided a ladder was surplus to requirements and abandoned it in the field. The snappers used it to climb up to the top of the wall and snap the gardai and murder scene around 100 yards away. I stood there getting very wet and very depressed.
In the end, we got some good photographs and the trek through the shit was worth it. The wet feet and dirty shoes are forgotten about in a couple of hours. What really lingers, however, is the murder of Stephen O'Halloran and what it says about Gangland Ireland today. You don't have to be a mobster to be targeted by the Glock-lovers. All you have to do is cross the wrong people.
He wasn't a big fish - he probably wasn't even a drug dealer. He was a thug. What the gardai call a gouger. Nothing more. He broke a woman's jaw; he left a neighbour needing rehab after a row about a dog; he assaulted four people when he burgled their house; he liked throwing his weight around and was quick to use his fists against anyone who crossed him.
But, obviously, he picked on the wrong person, somewhere along the line.
That person served up his revenge on a cold Monday night.

January 19, 2009

The Gangster got lucky last week...

He hates them. When he sees them in the street, he smirks and mocks them. When they bring him in for questioning, he takes a leaf out of the Provos' book and simply stares at the wall – refusing even to acknowledge their existence.
But now he owes gardai his life.
A routine patrol in Dublin last week intercepted suspects who detectives believe were on their way to murder the man who is quickly becoming Ireland's number one gangster. If the unarmed officers hadn't stopped the two would-be assassins, it's highly likely The Gangster would be dead now. Not that he'll thank them, of course. To him, the gardai are more his enemy than the gougers who are now intent on killing him. And anyway, he has his own, extrajudicial, way of dealing with people who try to rub him out.
In my last blog, I speculated that it would only be a matter of time before criminals turned their attention on The Gangster: I didn't think it would happen so quickly, however. I thought he maybe had six or seven months, a year even, before they caught up with him. But gangland moves quickly. He got lucky last week thanks to some good old fashioned police work by the people the State employs to counter him and his ilk: uniformed and unarmed gardai spot a car acting suspiciously and close in.

The only shock about the murder attempt was the people behind it. I thought that allies of Michael Roly Cronin, whose death – along with his sidekick James Maloney – he ordered on January 7 would have gone for revenge. Cronin was a dangerous drug dealer with plenty of allies – surely, I thought, they would target The Gangster. But it wasn't Cronin’s gang. The Gangster is suspected of organising several murders in the last three years and it was friends of one of them who are believed to have sanctioned this hit.


But, thanks to the gardai, they didn't get a chance to take their target out. The irony is that the man the gardai saved will probably go on to order more murders, more drug importations, more mayhem. Doubtless someone else will try to kill him soon. It reminds me of the chilling boast by the IRA when they almost killed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Brighton in 1984. “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” The gangster can’t, won’t, rely on gardai to save his life again. They’ll go for him again - he’ll have to be lucky again. Or else he’ll have to get them before they get him.
Many people will probably be cursing the gardai who prevented last week’s hit. One of them is bound to be the man who The Gangster paid a few grand to kill Cronin and Maloney. His life is now under direct threat from The Gangster. He is a low level criminal from north inner city Dublin. Gardai are amazed that The Gangster even thought of using him as the hitman. He is a chronic drug addict who carries out armed robberies to feed his habit: detectives never had him marked down as a killer. A violent thug, yes, a hitman, no.

And the fact that he left so many vital clues shows that The Gangster was stupid in his choice of killer. He dropped the murder weapon, a Magnum .357 revolver, close to the scene; he abandoned gloves and a coat nearby; he left his DNA in the car in which he shot Maloney and Cronin; he is likely to have been caught on CCTV sitting in the car before the murder. In other words, he has given gardai a huge amount of clues and it’s likely they’ll soon be able to charge him with he murders. If he is tracked down by gardai, the possibility is that he could turn tout and give evidence against the gangster. There is a precedent for this in the shape of James Martin Cahill, who killed Limerick doorman Brian Fitzgerald for one of the gangs there. That would be a huge result for the gardai and a nightmare for The Gangster.
And it leaves him in a sticky situation. He can either hope the killer, who is believed to have fled to Spain, stays hidden and isn’t arrested. Or he can take his own, decisive, action to make sure there’s no danger that the killer ever, ever, talks.

The killer really only has two options: turn himself in to the cops, serve his time and save his own life. Or he can rely on his own wits and try to survive alone in a foreign country – with cops and The Gangster breathing down his neck.

January 12, 2009

"This guy clearly takes no prisoners. Get in his way and you’ll soon be suffering from an extreme case of lead poisoning."

Seven days.

It took just seven days for the guns to come out again. And when they did, they came out with a vengeance. 2009 was only a week old when gangland Ireland claimed its first two victims of the year, Michael Cronin and James Maloney. They obviously won’t be the last. Last year, 20 people were victims of gun killing in Ireland. That was the second highest toll in the history of the state, behind 2006 when the number of gun homicides reached 26. The figure of 20 is quite high, when you compare it with England and Wales, where 42 people died in gun homicides last year. That’s with a population of some 53.4 million – more than 10 times ours. I wonder how many there’ll be this year in Ireland? I think we’re going to have a bad year and I would fear that 2009 will be just as deadly, if not worse, than 2006. The credit crunch even affects gangsters – fewer people buying cocaine because they’ve lost their jobs will mean gangs fighting over a shrinking market. Add that to the slashing of the overall Garda overtime budget and we have a recipe for bloody mayhem.
Drug dealer Cronin was shot in the head as he sat behind the wheel of his UK registered Volvo in Summerhill, in the centre of Dublin, on Wednesday, January 7. His associate, Maloney, died two days later. He had also been shot in the head. A few miles away, and an hour and half later, JP Brennan was shot in the arm and neck in his girlfriend’s house in Malahide. The bullet that hit him in the neck exited through his face. But he’ll live.
In relation to the double murder, it’s likely there will be quick progress. Gardai have the gun, they have what are probably the killer’s coat and gloves. He was sitting in the back seat before he pulled out a Magnum .357 and blasted his two victims from point blank range – he must have left trace evidence in the vehicle, including DNA. The gardai probably have the killer on CCTV. With all that, they have a good chance of catching the killer. Word is they already have a prime suspect.
But the man who ordered the hit, well, that’s a different matter. Like most godfathers, his hands are clean. He may have ordered up to a half a dozen murders in the last five years – but he has never pulled the trigger. Instead, like all bosses, he gets some lieutenant to carry out the hits while he sits back and watches. There’s no chance of the good guys getting him for the murder. He’s too far removed from the smoking gun.
To look at him, you wouldn’t think that he was one of the most dangerous, most vicious, criminals in the country. He just looks like some, admittedly well built and slightly menacing, fella you would see down the pub, or in the gym. But this is one man you would not want to accidentally bump into while heading to the bar to order a pint.
There were plenty of us reporters there when he was brought into the dock of a Dublin court. He was arrested over a high profile incident and we were there to see him in the flesh and facing justice. I can still remember seeing him for the first time. As ever, I was struck by the normality, the banality, of evil. It would be comforting if he had two heads, or three eyes, or some mark of Cain that betrayed what was going on inside his psychotic head. But, the reality is, he just looked like the rest of us humans – on the surface, anyway.
He showed no fear. He had just been charged with an offence that could see him doing over a decade behind bars. But if he cared, he didn’t show it. He was calmness personified as he appeared in front of the judge. Bail was refused because of the seriousness of the crime he was alleged to have committed. But that was only temporary: he was given bail a few weeks later. He came back on the streets and started back to what he knew best: murder and mayhem. The murders of Maloney and Cronin weren’t the first he orchestrated since a judge let him out – they probably won’t be the last.
I’d been following his ‘career’ with interest since early 2007. That was when he started to emerge as the successor to Martin `Marlo’ Hyland, shot dead in Finglas with innocent plumber Anthony Campbell in November 2006. Marlo controlled much of the drugs trade in north and west Dublin – and the man I was staring at in a Dublin court had started making shapes to take over that lucrative market. Not only was he interested in the business, he was also eager to snap up another valuable chunk of the Marlo empire. Hyland had the smuggling networks. Not only did he know where to sell the cocaine when it got in into Ireland, but he also knew how to get it in here in the first place. He had a network of established smuggling routes that brought in millions of euro worth of drugs into Ireland every month, for him and others to sell.
With Hyland out of the way, the new man on the block was ready to step up. And boy did he do that. John Daly was one of the few people in Finglas who would stand up to him. Daly, who shot to fame when he rang RTE’s Liveline from his cell inside Ireland’s supposed top security Portlaoise jail in May 2007, got out prison in August that year. He too saw the vacuum created by the death of Hyland, to whom he was close, and started making plans to take over his pal’s empire. He may as well have signed his own death warrant. Within three months, Daly was dead, killed as he sat in a taxi in Finglas. The main suspect is Marlo’s successor – the man who’ll do anything to protect his patch. He’s also suspected of ordering the murder in Finglas in August last year of armed robber Paul `Farmer’ Martin – shot dead as he sat in a pub following a friend’s funeral.
Gardai also reckon he was behind the murders of Cronin and Maloney.This guy clearly takes no prisoners. Get in his way and you’ll soon be suffering from an extreme case of lead poisoning. I suspect he knows he’s facing a good stretch of time behind bars and is getting rid of anyone who he perceives as a threat to his business before he gets locked up. That’s probably why he got Cronin killed last week – he was living in Finglas and, like all of the wannabe gangsters, thought he was somebody. We can’t name him at the moment. If he’s convicted of the charge he is facing, we’ll be able to name him for that – but it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to unmask him as the serial killer he is. That’s libel for you. The only way we will be able to reveal his name is if he ends up dead himself, which is not as unlikely as he thinks. In recent weeks, he has been boasting that he is confident the charges against him are going to be dropped. I personally would not be too sure. Anyway, 10 years behind bars might just be the best thing that could happen to him. Sooner or later, somebody stronger, more deadly, more vicious and less human will come along and do what he did to Cronin, Maloney, Martin and Daly. Nobody is invincible. Gangland is in a constant state of flux. One day your friend is your enemy, the next day your enemy is still your enemy and he's standing over you with a Glock. There are no friendships, there is no loyalty. Every now and again, a new Mr Big emerges in gangland. Someone who sticks his head above the parapet and reckons he’s the main man; someone who believes the hype about himself and thinks he’s untouchable, that the cops won’t get him and no criminal would dare. He’s invariably wrong on both counts. Cahill, Gilligan, Hyland, PJ Judge, the list is endless of people who either fought the law and the law won – or were killed by their pals. It just might be better for this new Mr Big if the good guys get him – before the bad guys do.