By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Another major blow was dealt to Ireland’s biggest criminal gang when a 34-year-old Dubliner last week became the second man to be given life imprisonment for the 1996 murder of journalist Veronica Guerin.
Brian "The Tosser" Meehan, 36, had pleaded not guilty to the killing of Guerin, 36, who was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle when she stopped at traffic lights on a slip road in the Clondalkin area of Dublin on June 26.
Gardai said Meehan was the driver of the motorcycle and the second-in-command and one of the "enforcers" in the major gang that had imported and distributed drugs worth over £180 million from 1994-96.
Guerin had specialized in reporting on the city’s drug lords for the Sunday Independent and her cold-blooded killing caused outrage and revulsion.
The Dail was recalled during the summer, a tough anti-crime package was passed, and the most extensive criminal investigation in the history of the state got under way.
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During the 31-day trial, the three-judge no-jury court heard evidence that Meehan was a central figure in a major criminal enterprise that is estimated to had imported and distributed 20,700 kilos of marijuana.
Meehan was also given five 12-year terms, five 25-year terms, two 10-year terms and two five-year terms, to run concurrently, for drugs and arms offenses.
He remained impassive in the court when the sentences were handed down and still maintained he was innocent.
Guerin’s widower, Graham Turley, and her brother Jimmy were in court for the verdict and heard the presiding judge, Frederick
Morris, praise her campaigning journalism.
He said Guerin had contributed "immeasurably" to the identification and destruction of the drugs business Meehan was involved in. It would mean many young people would be spared the scourge of drugs.
The five gang bosses were estimated to have made a profit of £3.6
million, with Meehan taking a £720,000 share. The Criminal Assets Bureau is investigating properties connected with Meehan and a £600,000 bank account in Austria.
Meehan was the second man to be found guilty of the killing. Last
November, another Dubliner, Paul Ward, from Walkinstown, was given life imprisonment by the court. Gardai say he disposed of both the pistol and the motorcycle used in the shooting.
John Gilligan, the alleged boss of the gang, has been in jail in Britain since 1996 fighting extradition proceedings.
No one has yet been charged with the actual shooting of Guerin. When Patrick "Dutchy" Holland, 59, of County Wicklow, was given 20 years for drug offenses in 1997, the court was told by a policewomen that gardai believed he was responsible for the murder. His sentence was later reduced to 12 years.
Alleged gang member John Traynor, who was one of Guerin’s main sources, and another suspect, Peter Mitchell, are believed to be living on the Continent.
Detective Inspector Tom O’Loughlin told the court that Meehan was "the primary figure in Ireland" for the gang that controlled an arsenal of guns that was second only to the paramilitaries.
Witnesses who are currently in a controversial special witness-protection program that gives them immunity from prosecution in
return for testifying, were the state’s key prosecution witnesses
against Meehan, but the judges dismissed some of their evidence.
The judges accepted evidence which put Meehan at the scene of the murder.
However, they threw out the evidence of Charles Bowden, a former
soldier who had been the gang’s armorer and was the first person to be accepted into the witness-protection program. They were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that his evidence was the truth.
The court accepted the evidence of another supergrass Russell Warren that Meehan road-tested the motorcycle and then ordered him to go to Naas to look for Guerin on the day she was murdered. Warren was the gang’s "bagman" and acted as a cash courier.
Warren’s testimony was backed up by an independent witness — a woman who saw him in Naas — and by records of mobile telephone calls between him and Meehan as he tracked Guerin’s movements.
Guerin had continued covering the activities of the drug gangs
despite having been attacked several times before her murder. She was shot in the thigh while at her Dublin home in January 1995 and had been beaten up as well.
She received an International Press Freedom award in New York from the Committee to Protect Journalists at the end of 1995 and was chosen as Irish Person of the Year.