By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The self-proclaimed chief suspect for the Veronica Guerin murder and the man gardai claim was the leader of the country’s most notorious criminal gang has arrived back in Ireland after a three-year battle against extradition from Britain.
John Gilligan, 47, has become the third person to face charges of murdering the journalist in June 1996.
Despite having been attacked several times before her murder, Guerin had continued covering the activities of the drug gang. She was shot in the thigh while at her Dublin home in January 1995 and was beaten up.
Gilligan’s journey home in an ‘r Corps plane followed a marathon series of legal challenges since he was arrested in Heathrow Airport on his way to Amsterdam in October 1996 carrying £330,000 in cash.
In addition to the murder charge, he also faces five charges of importing cannabis, six charges of having cannabis for sale, and six charges of possessing firearms with intent to endanger life.
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He represented himself when the charges were read to him in the Special Criminal Court.
After Guerin was shot by a passenger on a motorcycle when she was stopped in her car at traffic lights, Gilligan managed to remain active at the top of his gang for just five months.
He was charged with money laundering offenses after being stopped at Heathrow. It was decided the Irish charges would take precedence and extradition warrants were served as a result of the biggest ever Garda investigation.
Five members of Gilligan’s gang are now in prison.
Brian "The Tosser" Meehan, who gardai claim was the second in command and drove the motorbike used in the Guerin killing, was convicted of murder last July.
In November 1998, Paul "Hippo" Ward was also found guilty of the murder. Gardai say he disposed of both the pistol and the motorbike used in the shooting.
When Patrick "Dutchy" Holland, was given 20 years for drug offenses in 1997, a policewomen told the court that gardai believed he was involved in Guerin’s murder. His sentence was later reduced to 12 years on appeal.
Two other members of the gang, Charles Bowden, the gang’s armorer, and Russell Warren, its bagman, are held under the state’s first witness protection program. They were found guilty of charges connected with their role in the gang.
The gang, which had imported and distributed an estimated 20,700 kilos of cannabis — worth about £180 million — between 1994 and 1996 alone, has largely been destroyed, with remaining suspected members on the run abroad.