Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Gilligan: I've got nothing to hide

Drug baron John Gilligan, the one-time chief suspect in the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, has been freed after 17 years in jail

Drugs baron John Gilligan has claimed he has nothing to hide after walking free from jail.

The one-time chief suspect in the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin was released from Ireland's high-security Portlaoise prison this morning after spending 17 years behind bars.

The notorious crime lord had claimed he would not speak to the media, even if all the newspapers and broadcasters paid him a million euros each.

But within minutes of arriving at his brother's Dublin home he spoke out to deny any involvement in the crime reporter's murder in 1996, a vicious assault on her months earlier or threatening to rape her son.

"I'm after being on trial and they proved nothing," he told reporters.

"I'm after being decent enough and respectful enough, I didn't duck or dive.

"I could have come out of prison and hid.

"I won't be hiding from nobody, right? I've no problem with anybody."

Dressed in a light grey shirt and black trousers, Gilligan had held his head high as he emerged through the gates of the prison.

Carrying a black suit jacket, paper bags and newly-pressed shirt wrapped in a dry cleaning bag, the 61-year-old walked the short distance to a waiting car where two men - including his brother Thomas - waited for him.

Armed officers patrolled the rooftop above the prison entrance, barely visible through fog, while a small group of locals watched nearby, eager to catch a glimpse of one of Ireland's most infamous prisoners.

The crime boss chatted on a mobile phone and smiled at photographers from the back passenger seat as the Ford Mondeo sped off and took him to Clondalkin in west Dublin.

Caught in legal battles with the State, Gilligan lost his latest court case yesterday which challenged the courts' legality to sentence him to consecutive jail terms for offences committed in prison.

He also lodged a fresh action in the High Court over the legality of the sale of his prized Jessbrook estate in Co Kildare, which was put on the market by the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) a month ago after yet another lengthy legal wrangle.

It is believed the action is intended to act as a deterrent to potential buyers.

Gilligan has been in jail since October 1996 when he was caught by UK Customs officers with IR£296,000 hidden in a suitcase as he boarded a plane for Amsterdam in London's Heathrow Airport.

The Ballyfermot man maintains he was only targeted by police after the murder of mother-of-one Ms Guerin, who was one of Ireland's leading crime reporters when she was killed.

The journalist embarked on a crusade in the Sunday Independent to expose the ruthless dealings of drugs barons in Ireland in the mid-1990s.

But her high-profile war against gangsters ended when a gunman on a motorbike shot her dead as she waited at traffic lights in Naas Road, Dublin, on June 26 1996.

The criminal investigation that followed was one of the largest in the history of the state and led to more than 150 arrests and the setting-up of the Cab.

Gilligan, a career criminal who was first convicted at the age of 15, was the chief suspect.

He was accused of ordering the murder when charges were brought against him for a vicious assault on Ms Guerin as she tried to quiz him over where his gang got the cash for designer clothes, expensive cars and exotic foreign holidays.

He was detained in the UK four months after the killing and eventually extradited to Ireland in February 2000.

Gilligan was later acquitted of Ms Guerin's murder and firearms charges, but convicted of possession of an estimated 20,000kg (44,093lb) of cannabis resin for sale and supply over two years.

He was handed a record 28 years behind bars, which was later reduced on appeal to 20 years and backdated to 1996.

Gilligan would have been due for release two years ago with remission but in 2006 he was handed another two-year sentence for assaulting a prison officer, to start on the date of the expiry of the drug sentence.

He has also been twice convicted for having a mobile phone in prison.

Gang member Brian Meehan is the only man still behind bars after being jailed for life over the killing. Another associate, Paul Ward, had his murder conviction overturned on appeal.

The man named during one court case as having pulled the trigger in the Guerin murder, Patrick "Dutchy" Holland, died in June 2009.

Elsewhere, Gilligan used the legal protection of a High Court case in Dublin in 2008 to name wanted fraudster John Traynor, known in gangland circles as The Coach, as the man who ordered the hit.

Meanwhile, his former home, the Olympic-sized Jessbrook Equestrian Centre, in Mucklon, near Enfield, remains on the market, having been empty since July 1996 when it was seized by gardai.

Once valued at five million euro (£4.2 million), it is for sale for just 500,000 euro (£420,000).

The sprawling estate is just shy of 50 acres, and includes a 3,500-seat equestrian arena with a VIP section and commentary booths which has since become a shell for rat poison and bird droppings.

It is not known if Gilligan's long-term plans involving returning to a home attached to land around the equestrian centre, where his estranged wife Geraldine still lives, or fleeing to Alicante in Spain where daughter Tracey runs the family-owned Judges' Chamber bar.

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz