Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Dissident republican group played key role in Jim Donegan murder

Criminal murdered over refusal to meet extortion demand

Jim Donegan beside his sports car
Jim Donegan beside his sports car
Ciaran Barnes

By Ciaran Barnes

Dissident gang Oglaigh na hEireann played a key role in the horrific school gates murder of cocaine baron Jim 'JD' Donegan.

Sunday Life can reveal that the terror group was involved in targeting the major criminal who was gunned down by a member of the INLA.

Both republican organisations worked together to execute Donegan - the first anniversary of whose death occurs on Wednesday - after he refused to meet extortion demands.

The top cop heading up the unsolved gangland murder inquiry, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Montgomery, last night confirmed this newspaper's findings.

He told us: "I am satisfied that ONH (Oglaigh na hEireann) played a role, and there was cross-republican involvement in the killing of Jim Donegan."

Although the INLA and ONH claim to be on ceasefire, when it comes to criminal cash disputes, both are happy to bring out the guns. JD Donegan learned that to his cost when he refused to increase protection payments to the gangs.

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ONH's role in the murder was to provide the INLA with details of the 43-year-old drug lord's movements.

It was ONH's members who established that Donegan collected his teenage son at the gates of St Mary's Grammar on the Glen Road in west Belfast at 3.30pm every Tuesday and Thursday.

The crime boss - who oversaw a massive cocaine distribution network stretching across Northern Ireland - was easy to spot as he drove an £80,000 Porsche with customised number plates.

The CCTV image of the murder suspect
The CCTV image of the murder suspect

Due to this, detectives working on the case believe the INLA gunman, who was wearing a scarf, hat and hi-vis coat, was acting alone and did not need an accomplice to keep watch.

He approached Donegan, pulling his weapon from a drawstring bag and shooting him eight times in the head and body as he sat behind the wheel of his sports car.

The killer then jogged up the Glen Road and escaped down an alley into the Rosnareen area, which is a maze of small streets.

Out of public view, he slipped into an as yet unidentified safe house where the semi-automatic pistol murder weapon was taken from him and spirited away.

For the PSNI, the key to catching Jim Donegan's killers is establishing the house in which the gunman sheltered afterwards.

The fact that he was wearing an easily identifiable fluorescent jacket gives them hope that a witness saw something that may be crucial to their inquiries.

An image of how the gunman may look (PSNI/PA)
An image of how the gunman may look (PSNI/PA)

Cops are in possession of CCTV footage of the gunman running through the estate, but do not know into which house he fled.

They also have recordings of him from five days earlier standing near the school gates. However, on that occasion Donegan did not show up to collect his son.

In the past year, the PSNI has arrested several people in connection with the murder, including well-known bodybuilder Joe Downey who went public earlier this year to deny involvement.

The popular 32-year-old said he was being made a "scapegoat" and his business has been ruined as a result.

Sunday Life can also reveal that detectives are certain the plot to kill Donegan was hatched and executed by republican gangs in Belfast.

In the weeks after, there was strong speculation that a southern-based hitman may have been contracted to carry out the killing.

Mr Donegan was shot dead while picking up his son from school (Niall Carson/PA)
Mr Donegan was shot dead while picking up his son from school (Niall Carson/PA)

But police have now ruled out this theory, attributing blame to INLA and ONH members.

Although the PSNI has not described Donegan as a drug dealer out of respect for his family, security insiders have confirmed he was among the "top 10" in Northern Ireland.

He used his courier businesses as cover for a massive cocaine distribution network that made him extremely rich.

Donegan lived in a huge country house near Lisburn, drove an £80,000 car and spent tens of thousands of pounds on an extravagant wedding that saw him arrive at the reception by helicopter.

He also foolishly flaunted this wealth by making frequent trips to exclusive hotels in Spain - drawing the attention of groups like the INLA and ONH which saw him as a potential cash cow. Prior to his killing, Donegan is understood to have been paying protection money to dissident republicans. But when these demands increased, and he refused to meet them, he signed his own death warrant.

The west Belfast man's wife Laura Donegan, a former glamour model, has denied her husband was a drug dealer.

Writing on social media, she said: "My Jim was not involved in any way with any criminal activity. I knew who my Jim was and he was nothing like that. He worked hard every day."

But that has been rejected by security, republican and criminal sources.

Donegan is also known to have had strong links to violent criminals, including loyalist hitman Jamie Smith (39), who is serving a life sentence for murder and who has convictions for dealing heroin and cocaine.

Another associate was west Belfast dissident republican Gerard Mackin (34), who now lives across the border.

He was cleared on appeal of the 2007 Continuity IRA murders of Eddie Burns and Joe Jones, before being jailed for three years for pinning a man to a wooden floor with a nail gun.

Police plan to make a fresh public appeal for information about the Donegan killing on the first anniversary of his death on Wednesday.

Ahead of this, DCI Montgomery told Sunday Life: "I am appealing for anyone with any information on the murder, including witnesses, to contact police on the 101 number."

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