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Ivan Little: Businessmen have often fallen foul of kidnap gangs on both sides of Irish border


Ingeborg Niedermayer is comforted by daughters Gabrielle (left) and Renate at the funeral of her husband Thomas in 1980

Ingeborg Niedermayer is comforted by daughters Gabrielle (left) and Renate at the funeral of her husband Thomas in 1980

Thomas Niedermayer

Thomas Niedermayer

A burned out van and car near the border that police believe were used in the kidnapping of Ben Dunne in 1981

A burned out van and car near the border that police believe were used in the kidnapping of Ben Dunne in 1981

Ben Dunne

Ben Dunne

Don Tidey

Don Tidey

Tiede Herrema

Tiede Herrema

Ingeborg Niedermayer is comforted by daughters Gabrielle (left) and Renate at the funeral of her husband Thomas in 1980

It's an occupational hazard of wealth and success, and for prominent businessmen in Ireland kidnapping has all too frequently gone with the territory of terrorism.

Kevin Lunney isn't the first leading figure to be abducted down the years, on either side of the Irish border.

The names of Thomas Niedermayer, Don Tidey, Ben Dunne and Tiede Herrema are writ large in the collective memory of Ireland. Even a champion race horse, Shergar, was a victim of kidnap gangs in February 1983 and never heard of again.

Criminal gangs with an eye to an easy windfall from a ransom pay-out have been responsible for many abductions, taking their cue from the IRA - who also kidnapped for profit but also sometimes used their captives as bargaining chips for political demands.

Loyalists also got in on the act. The late hotelier Billy Hastings fell foul of one UVF gang at the height of the Troubles.

And loyalist paramilitaries held Catholic priest Fr Hugh Murphy in Co Antrim in 1978 after the IRA claimed they'd abducted policeman Constable William Turbitt near Crossmaglen.

The cleric was freed unharmed after appeals from the Rev Ian Paisley, but the RUC man's body was later found in south Armagh.

Earlier in 1973 the IRA kidnapped Thomas Niedermayer, the German boss of the Grundig electronics firm at Dunmurry.

The honorary German Consul was seized from his home in west Belfast two days after Christmas and the Provisionals' plan was to use him to bolster their demands for the transfer to Northern Ireland of sisters Marian and Dolours Price, who were in jail in England for their part in a London bombing campaign.

A recently published book by David Blake Knox claimed that IRA leader Brian Keenan, who worked at the Grundig plant, was behind the kidnap.

For years, nothing more was heard of Thomas Niedermayer, whose wife Ingeborg bought a burial plot in a church graveyard and erected a headstone so she would have somewhere to visit.

However, in 1980 Mr Niedermayer's body was found by police under a rubbish dump at Colin Glen forest park.

I covered the discovery for UTV and was told by a senior RUC officer that the remains had been unearthed by chance. It clearly wasn't the truth and Blake Knox's book revealed that an informer tipped off police.

Officers disguised as workmen cleared thousands of tons of rubbish before discovering Mr Niedermayer's body, which had extensive head injuries.

The kidnap was followed many years later by a series of tragedies. Mr Niedermayer's widow and daughters Renate and Gabrielle, who'd grown up in Belfast, all died by suicide.

South of the border the most infamous kidnapping of the Troubles came in October 1975 when Dutch industrialist Dr Tiede Herrema was stopped at a fake Garda checkpoint on his way to a meeting in Co Limerick, at the factory where he was the chief executive.

Dr Herrema (54) was bundled into a car and the kidnappers, led by republican bomber Eddie Gallagher, phoned the Dutch embassy to demand the release of three IRA prisoners, adding that if they weren't freed, the industrialist would be killed.

One of the prisoners was Gallagher's partner Rose Dugdale, a former debutante who had joined the IRA and been jailed for stealing 19 masterpieces by artists Rubens, Gainsborough and Goya and the only privately held Vermeer in the world from a stately home in Wicklow.

Gallagher's kidnap accomplice Marian Coyle demanded the release of her boyfriend Kevin Mallon from jail where he was serving a sentence for IRA offences.

The coalition government in Dublin led by Liam Cosgrave refused to do a deal and after two weeks the kidnappers changed their demands to a £2m ransom and a plane to take them to the Middle East. Neither demand was met, and the kidnappers and Dr Herrema were later tracked down to a house in the town of Monasterevin in Co Kildare.

Security forces tried to smash their way in, but Gallagher and Coyle opened fire before locking themselves in an upstairs bedroom with their Dutch captive.

The siege ended after 18 days with the surrender of the kidnappers, who gave Dr Herrema a bullet 'souvenir' of his ordeal.

The industrialist later said he forgave his kidnappers and he returned to Ireland on a number of occasions, when he revealed that Gallagher and Coyle had thought he was German, not Dutch.

After his release from jail, Gallagher bizarrely ended up leading horse treks in Co Donegal where - over 20 years ago sitting on a quiet beach at the Isle of Doagh - he gave me an interview for Ulster Television, looking back on his turbulent past.

What he said was a mixture of regret and pragmatism about what he had done.

Another man who was given bullets as mementoes of his kidnap was supermarket tycoon Ben Dunne. He was abducted near the border on his way to Portadown in October 1981 to open a new Dunne's store.

Mr Dunne had stopped to help out at the scene of what he thought was an accident but armed men dragged him away and drove him south with a hood over his head.

The kidnappers demanded £500,000 for Mr Dunne's release but the Dublin government urged his family to say no.

However, despite denials at the time, it's believed that after three unsuccessful attempts the money was eventually handed over to an intermediary. Mr Dunne was driven to south Armagh where he was released at the gates of a church and he took sanctuary in a graveyard.

Downtown Radio journalist Eamonn Mallie had been contacted by the kidnappers and went to Cullyhanna, where he found Mr Dunne and offered to drive him home.

Security sources believed that the IRA had wanted the ransom money in order to buy guns.

Another supermarket chief, Don Tidey, was abducted by republicans in November 1983.

Mr Tidey, who was chief executive of Associated British Foods (ABF) which owned the Quinnsworth stores, was stopped at a fake Garda checkpoint near his home in Rathfarnham, Dublin, where a gun was pointed at his head by a man in a police uniform and he was forced into a car and driven away.

Mr Tidey's son and daughter, who had been with their father, were left at the side of the road.

A man claiming to be from the IRA demanded a £5m ransom but Mr Tidey's business associates said they wouldn't comply.

However, a security manager from Quinnsworth was held by the police at Dublin airport, where it was said he was about to board a chartered plane. Security sources reckoned that it was part of an attempt to negotiate with the kidnappers.

After 23 days in captivity, Mr Tidey was rescued - with tragic results - in a joint police and army operation in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.

He was being held in a dugout in a wooded area with four armed terrorists, who opened fire on the security forces, killing trainee policeman Gary Sheehan and soldier Patrick Kelly.

Three weeks before the Tidey abduction, five men had been jailed for a shoot-out outside the home of millionaire businessman Galen Weston, a brother of the ABF boss. Garda sources were convinced they'd foiled another kidnap bid.

In the Republic at around the same time the targets for the kidnappers, who were thought to be Dublin gangsters, ranged from publisher Albert Folens to the wife and daughter of steel importer Peter Simms, to a butcher in Co Louth and the wife of a courier firm's owner.

Solicitor William Somerville and Alma Manina, the wife of a Canadian industrialist, were also in the kidnappers' sights, along with Dublin dentist John O'Grady and bank head Jim Lacey, who was seized by a crime gang led by Martin Cahill - aka The General.

In April 1966, Jennifer Guinness, the wife of a merchant bank's chairman, was kidnapped and a seven figure sum was demanded for her release, but she was freed after a brief exchange of gunfire at a house in Dublin.

During the conflict the IRA used another form of kidnapping to help in their terrorist campaign - abducting people and forcing them to drive bombs which had been loaded into their cars or lorries to targeted destinations, mainly security force bases.

The drivers were usually able to escape, but in October 1990 Derry man Patsy Gillespie was given no chance. He was chained to a lorry containing a 1,200 pound bomb and ordered to drive it to a security checkpoint on the Derry-Donegal border where it exploded, killing him and five soldiers.

Paramilitaries also refined the abduction tactic, adding 'tiger kidnapping' to the lexicon of terror, most notably with the IRA's £26.5m robbery at the Northern Bank in Belfast in 2004.

The idea was simple - to get an employee of a business concern to do the robbers' dirty work for them as they took money from their own workplaces, while terrorists held their loved ones hostage at their homes.

In 2009 the Irish government said tiger kidnappings were happening at the rate of almost one a week.

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