Belfast Telegraph

Ciaran Barnes: Malcolm McKeown a notorious gangster who lived by the sword and died by it

Murder victims Hugh and Jackie McGeough
Murder victims Hugh and Jackie McGeough
Clifford McKeown, who was jailed for sectarian murder of Michaelr McGoldrick. It was claimed in court that the murder was a birthday present for LVF leader Billy Wright M & M News Services Paul Higgins Court Story.
Michael McGoldrick
Ciaran Barnes

By Ciaran Barnes

Slain crime chief Malcolm McKeown's CV includes murder, drug dealing and robbery. In the eyes of the PSNI he was the most prolific gangster operating in north Armagh, someone who was so unpredictable that he broke the unwritten cop/criminal rule of bringing violence to the doors of police officers.

The 54-year-old's gang was behind a spate of arson attacks on cars belonging to serving police officers in Banbridge and Craigavon. Their crime, in his eyes, was to try and shut down his drug dealing network.

The investigation centred around a Co Down hotel where McKeown's men sold large amounts of cocaine at weekend discos.

When the management and bouncers put a stop to it, their homes were also targeted in arson attacks, with fires set at 30 properties causing damage in excess of £1m.

Unlike other crime godfathers who tend to get less hands-on as they get older, McKeown was completely the opposite.

Last week he was granted High Court bail on charges of aggravated burglary, during which his victim was bound with cable-ties while he ransacked the property for jewellery. McKeown was also facing separate charges of beating up an ex-girlfriend.

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Clifford McKeown, who was jailed for sectarian murder of Michaelr McGoldrick. It was claimed in court that the murder was a birthday present for LVF leader Billy Wright M & M News Services Paul Higgins Court Story.

His desire for freedom ultimately cost him his life, with his address in Waringstown made public in the High Court last week when he was granted bail.

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The property is less than half a mile away from the service station at which he was gunned down on Monday night.

Detectives from the PSNI's Major Investigation Team (MIT) are now working through a long list of suspects with grievances against McKeown.

Top of the list are associates of Hugh McGeough, a rival drug dealer and former friend, who the career criminal paid to have murdered in 2011.

When his wife Jackie came down the stairs of their Craigavon home after hearing her husband being shot in the head she too was killed by the gunman. Friends of McGeough vowed revenge, a promise that the PSNI is now examining if they kept. The original row between the pair was over £13,000 which McGeough had given McKeown for a cannabis consignment.

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Michael McGoldrick

McKeown claimed the drugs had been recovered by police in Scotland, but McGeough did not believe this and demanded his cash back. Both exchanged threats, with McKeown acting decisively by having his rival gunned down. He was charged with the murder after his DNA was found on a bullet, but the case against him collapsed.

More recently, there has been a wave of shotgun attacks on other properties in Banbridge and Lisburn - all of which are believed to have taken place on Malcolm McKeown's say so.

Although he kept company with loyalists, the crime chief was not a member of any paramilitary organisation.

His eldest brother Clifford, the notorious UVF supergrass of the 1980s, is serving a 24-year prison term for the 1996 LVF murder of Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick.

Another brother Trevor is now free after being jailed for 15 years for the 1997 LVF killing of Catholic teen Bernadette Martin in Aghalee, although there are major doubts over his guilt. Because of his sibling's LVF links Malcolm McKeown was always thought to have the protection of the terror gang. However, this was not the case.

He survived being shot in the stomach by the LVF in 1999 following a row over drugs money, before making up with its members, who supplied him with cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine right up until his murder on Monday night.

Loyalist sources in north Armagh have described McKeown as a bully who had "all the charm of a plastic bullet", saying he will not be mourned outside his family.

His volatile and violent nature meant that he was disliked even by members of his own gang.

As well as setting fires to the homes of police officers, he also had form for threatening journalists.

In 2003 McKeown attacked a Sunday Life photographer with a brick outside Craigavon courthouse, stealing his car keys and trying to smash up his camera.

He was charged with assault, but the case against him collapsed when he intimidated the journalist.

The thug made cutthroat gestures to his victim in court frightening him into withdrawing his evidence.

McKeown's murder is a textbook case of someone who lived by the gun, dying by the gun. Given the crimes he committed and the enemies he made, it was inevitable that he would meet a violent end.

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