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Closing Time

Murder convictions and a cartel close to collapse: How gardaí pummeled the Kinahan gang in 2018

Eighteen people have lost their lives in the feud.

2018 WILL BE remembered by gardaí for a long time – it was the year they brought some of the underworld’s most serious killers and gang leaders to justice. 

The fight against the cartel is continuing – but it is now just a shell of what it used to be. Informants permeate through the entire system – from its upper echelons to its low-level drug runners. 

Nobody wants to go to prison – they’d rather take the risk of being an informant. But then there are those who just couldn’t avoid a long life sentence. 

Speak to any garda, if they let you, and they’ll say that the conviction of Freddie Thompson for the murder of Daithí Douglas was one of the biggest collars they’ve been able to achieve in a long time. 

Save for getting Daniel Kinahan himself, Freddie was atop the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau’s wish list for up to a decade. 

They knew he was killer. They knew who he supplied drugs to. They knew what attacks he ordered.

The gardaí knew it was him who ordered that innocent families be targeted to pay off debts. The officers knew because – sometimes – the gang came for the police themselves, attempting to intimidate the people tasked with jailing them.

In the end, it was Thompson’s clumsiness which cost him his freedom. He had not banked on the thoroughness of the gardaí’s work. 

Fingerprints and DNA evidence left in a number of so-called spotter vehicles resulted in gardaí being able to pin Thompson’s locations around the time of the murder. 

Justice Tony Hunt said there is no doubt that Mr Douglas was murdered and that this was an execution involving intricate advanced planning and co-ordination. He pointed out that the prosecution did not suggest that Thompson was the person who fired the shots, but that he was one of the people involved.

Specifically, Thompson had been driving a Ford Fiesta that was intricately involved in the murder plot. The Fiesta was seen interacting with other vehicles and individuals involved in the plot on the morning before the shooting. It also drove past Shoestown four minutes before the shooting, in what Justice Hunt said was a “final check” before the gunman arrived to carry out the planned execution.

Freddie had been highly involved in the gang’s operations in Dublin in the immediate aftermath of the Regency attack – during which Eddie Hutch Snr, Michael Barr, David Douglas and Gareth Hutch all lost their lives. 

Thompson had been a pain in the side of gardaí for over a decade. But finally they had their man. 

But while the gang terrorised large swathes of Dublin and its commuter belt, gardaí were busy making inroads into the Kinahan Organised Crime Gang. The work started in the immediate aftermath of the Regency Hotel attack in February 2016 – a murder that kicked off the Kinahan/Hutch feud which has so far claimed 18 lives in two years. 

As some national units attempted to quell the violence erupting on the streets, there were detective units channelling their ways into the upper crust of Dublin’s criminality.

While Thompson may have been the marquee man for officers, 2018 was the year where justice for the murder of Gareth Hutch was also served.

Gareth Hutch was the nephew of Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch. Gardaí had warned him that there was a threat to his life just days before his murder. He 

Jonathan Keogh (33), his sister Regina Keogh (41) and Thomas Fox (31) were all found guilty of the 24 May 2016 murder. 

File photo: A man in his late 20's is due to appear at Cloverhill District Court at 10.30am this morning charged in relation to the murder of Gareth Hutch . End.

Their case was more straightforward – someone was offered immunity from prosecution to speak and they took it. But what can’t be discounted is the level of intelligence which gardaí garnered before speaking to the two Keoghs and Fox. 

Leads don’t just generate from thin air. In the initial aftermath of the murder, there was chatter on the streets, rumblings of who was involved and what had happened. There was talk that terse words were exchanged between Hutch and Jonathan Keogh a day prior to the murder.

Keogh was also heard expressing his intention to kill Hutch later that evening and that he was one of the two gunmen responsible for the murder.

From this nugget of information, specialist gardaí were able to turn to their CHIS (confidential human intelligence sources) – and begin to fill in the gaps between the row and the murder. 

Months of work and thousands of man hours led to arrests and charges. The wheels of justice moved slowly but the same gardaí who chased the information they tracked down in the aftermath of the murder were in court to watch the three killers handed down a mandatory life sentence each. 

While gardaí might tell you that a hefty sentence is the best outcome after an long investigation, there are those officers who find it quite satisfying to see the wealth accumulated by your top targets being confiscated. 

As the Kinahan cartel was being dismantled by its own tout problem, the gardaí probing the outfit effectively split the cartel into two similar yet distinct groups. There’s the Kinahan Organised Crime Gang (KOCG) and then there’s the Byrne Organised Crime Group (BOCG).

David Byrne was murdered at the Regency Hotel. Byrne was a high ranking lieutenant in the gang. He took ordered from the top brass and was effectively the cartel’s enforcer in Dublin’s south inner city before he was shot dead. 

But as the feud continued, the cartel knew it had to protect its accumulated wealth. There were those who were too close to the main players who were being used to stash money or drugs or hide debit cards or fraudulent passports. 

Liam Byrne, David’s brother, was essentially handed the keys to his own cartel within a cartel. In August of this year, the High Court ruled that assets belonging to the BOCG were the proceeds of crime and a freezing order was placed on them.

4 seized_90558473 A CAB seizure earlier this year. Garda Press Garda Press

The High Court gave its judgment in a case brought by the Criminal Assets Bureau against: Liam Byrne, Liam Roe, Sean McGovern, Maria Byrne, Anita Freeman, Kelly Quinn, Darren Foster, Jennifer Foster, James Byrne, Sadie Byrne, and Simoan McEnroe.

In the High Court in July, Justice Carmel Stewart noted that Liam Byrne was the leader of the Byrne Organised Crime Group (BOCG) which is involved, amongst other things, the importation and distribution of controlled drugs and firearms in Ireland and his close connection to the Kinahan Organised Crime Group. 

The court heard extensive, detailed and largely uncontroverted evidence against Liam Byrne who was described by CAB as a career criminal heavily involved in drug trafficking and violent crime with connections to international criminality operation out of the UK, Spain and the Netherlands. He set up a car business called “LS Active Car Sales Ltd” situated in Bluebell, Dublin 12 – something which the courts described as a front for money laundering.

This was the first time a judge had explicitly stated that Liam Byrne was a high-ranking member of the cartel and CAB was now firmly on his tail. The gardaí went for the bling and the flash cars – and they got them. 

While gardaí worked on removing the assets from these criminals, there were also members of An Garda Síochána based in south-west Spain helping the Spanish police with their investigation into the murder of Gary Hutch in September 2015.

In the middle of June this year, Dubliner James Quinn was found guilty of murdering Gary Hutch. 

Gary had been working for the Kinahan cartel for a number of years but the gang’s top members believed him to be an informant to gardaí and had him killed. His murder led to the Hutch gang’s retaliation at the Regency Hotel – effectively starting the feud.

While Quinn was not found guilty of being the man who pulled the trigger, the Dubliner (35) was instead found by a jury to have been the getaway driver – the man who ferried the killer to Miraflores near Fuengirola.

90429561_90429561 (2) The moment James Quinn was arrested in Spain. Garda Press Garda Press

Prior to his leaving for Spain, Gary Hutch had been working for the Kinahan cartel where he was a mid-level drug operator. He had been splitting his time between Spain and the Netherlands and was taking orders from high-level lieutenants in the cocaine trafficking enterprise.

James Quinn and Gary Hutch were close at one point in their lives before the former was ordered by the cartel to murder his friend.

Spanish police have records of a number of phone calls between the two men leading up to the murder and it was the contention of both the police and gardaí that Hutch was being told not to worry about the rumours that he was an informant and that he still had the trust of the higher-ups of the cartel.

While senior management will hail the arrests and convictions of these criminals, they have also been busy trying to keep a lid on the killings and they’ve done this to great effect. 

Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll said earlier this year that gardaí had intervened in close to 50 cases now where if they had not taken action they believe a murder would have taken place.

Sources have told that a figure of closer to 70 is accurate as we end the year.

3373 Seized_90503764 A seized firearm. Garda Press Garda Press

O’Driscoll said that there was great communication and cooperation between An Garda Síochána and international police forces in relation to tackling gangland crime.

He said gardaí were working closely with British police and had worked with Dutch and Spanish police.

“We engage with every jurisdiction where we think there is a link with organised crime in Ireland,” he said.

When questioned over whether crime bosses or figures not living in Ireland or Europe were impossible to reach, O’Driscoll said that there was potential for charges to be brought against people not living here.

“There is potential – despite the fact that people are outside this jurisdiction – that charges such as those relating to conspiracy to murder may be laid against people who are not in this jurisdiction,” he said.

But they can’t be everywhere as November’s murder of Clive Staunton proved. The availability of weapons and itchy trigger fingers have resulted in a number of avoidable murders. 

For gardaí, 2019 will hopefully garner similar results to this year. 

But the message from the ground is simple: gardaí need the resources to take cartels down. When they’re invested in, they get results. 

A new commissioner is now installed and many hope that Drew Harris’ tenure will reap rewards. 

Only time will tell.

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