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Dublin: 17 °C Saturday 26 May, 2018
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Men jailed after being caught 'red-handed' with loaded guns and a can of petrol

They were caught following a three-day surveillance operation.

Image: Shutterstock/sakhorn

TWO MEN WHO were caught “red handed” with loaded guns and a can of petrol with “an intent to endanger life” have been jailed for 12 and 10 years.

Anthony Callaghan (45) and Paul Zambra (39) were caught following a three-day surveillance operation by specialist gardaí.

Callaghan, of Millrace Road, Phoenix Park Racecourse, Dublin and Zambra, of Inagh Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin both pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of a Ruger revolver and semi-automatic pistol with intent to endanger life at Clonshaugh Avenue, Coolock on 29 May 2015.

“Significant convictions”

Speaking to reporters outside the CCJ Superintendent Tony Howard said:

This is one of the most significant convictions in quite some time. These are two very dangerous criminals who have been removed from society for a number of years and we would believe, yes, it was one of the most significant operations.
You only have to think back a number of weeks ago when we had a serious incident in the north side of the city so we would see any operation that takes firearms off the streets and takes criminals of the calibre of the people we have convicted today, that’s a significant day.

“This was a major operation which was planned,” said Howard. “It was conducted by a number of specialised units but primarily by the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. It took place over three days. There was a huge amount of assets and resources deployed.”

He said that in terms of evidence, there were two loaded firearms,one of which had a silencer, there was petrol also recovered in the car, and the car had false plates.

This was a professional operation and there is no doubt that somebody’s life was in imminent danger.

He said that the safety catches had been removed off the firearms, “they were in readiness for a major incident and a tactical decision was made”.

Preservation of life is more important than anything else in any of these operation and thankfully no garda was injured or no member of the public was injured.

“I think the public need to know that this type of operation is on-going almost every day but the public aren’t aware of what we do,” he added.

When asked if they are connected to gangland and organised crime he said:

Certainly these two individuals would be involved in organised crime. The operation itself, the planning, the methodology, the guns, the petrol….these people were well versed in how to carry out a criminal attack.

When asked how big a dent it is in their operation ,the superintendent replied:

“There is no doubt that this is a significant dent in any operation. We have taken guns and we have taken the individuals out of the equation and the community will be a lot safer with these two gentlemen locked up in prison for a number of years.”

Surveillance operation

The men were stopped by gardaí who mounted a surveillance operation in the Coolock area and a search of the BMW driven by Zambra yielded two firearms and a full petrol can.

Callaghan’s previous convictions include attempted robbery and possession of a firearm. Zambra has convictions for robbery, larceny and road traffic offences.

Judge Melanie Greally said the men were caught “red-handed” and although she accepted that they pleaded guilty, she described the evidence against the men as “overwhelming”.

She said Zambra was a man with “a history of violent crime” and that Callaghan has previously been jailed for firearm offences connected with a robbery.

Capacity to endanger life

Judge Greally said guns when discovered by gardaí were “optimal readiness for use” and their capacity to endanger life was “considerable”.

She accepted there was no evidence as to why the men had the weapons but added “the venture for their intended use was imminent”.

Judge Greally sentenced Callaghan to 12 years in prison and Zambra to 10 years after commenting that there was “a significant public interest in deterring firearm offences”.

Detective Garda Glen Somers told Vincent Heneghan BL, prosecuting, that gardaí acting on confidential information mounted a surveillance operation over several days on the movements and activities surrounding a number of vehicles driven variously by Callaghan and Zambra.

On 29 May 2015 gardaí became aware that a white Nissan van driven by Callaghan with Zambra as a front seat passenger was on its way to Coolock. Zambra was dropped off at Clonshaugh Crescent where a blue BMW estate was parked.

Zambra got into the BMW and drove onto Clonshaugh Avenue, in a direction which was in close proximity to the Riverside Estate. Callaghan drove off onto Clonshaugh Road.
Gardaí made tactical stops of both vehicles at about 12.15pm and arrested the men.

Zambra had attempted to drive off after being directed to get out of the car but was boxed in by a squad car. Inside the BMW gardaí recovered a full 5 litre petrol container, a semi-automatic pistol wrapped in newspapers and a revolver wrapped inside a neck warmer.

The semi-automatic pistol had a silencer attached and its safety catch was off. The Ruger revolver was loaded with five rounds and had its serial numbers drilled off.

Right to silence

Both men exercised their right to silence during garda questioning. Gardaí recovered CCTV from Topaz in Mulhuddart and identified Zambra as the person purchasing the petrol. Both vehicles seized were registered under false names and addresses.

Garda Somers agreed with Sean Guerin SC, defending Callaghan, that when his client was stopped he was driving away from the Riverside area. He agreed that there were no other outstanding matters in which Callaghan was a suspect.

Mr Guerin submitted there was case law outlining a clear distinction between an intent to endanger life and intent to kill. He asked the court to also take into account his client’s early guilty plea.

He said that whatever had been afoot, Callaghan had been driving away from “the scene” when he was stopped by gardaí and there was no evidence of evasive manoeuvres.

Michael O’Higgins SC, defending Zambra, said his client was a father of one who was separated from his partner. He had a “fairly serious” drug problem since he was 16 years old but there was no suggestion his involvement in this offence was due to his drug history.

He submitted that while the court might infer from the sightings of the vehicles in the area that there was an intent to endanger life in the environs this was different from an intent to seriously injure or kill.

Mr O’Higgins said Zambra has applied himself well while in custody and asked the court to take into account his prompt guilty plea.

Read: Man jailed for life for baseball bat murder of 20-year-old who had “hit his car a thump>”

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Fiona Ferguson and Sonya McLean

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