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Wayne Whelan was 'lured to his death' by his trusted friend, court told

Whelan (42) was shot dead in Lucan, Co Dublin on the evening of 18 November 2019.

The scene in Lucan on 18 November 2019.
The scene in Lucan on 18 November 2019.
Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

WAYNE WHELAN, WHO was shot at least three times in the head before his body was found in a burning car in west Dublin, was “lured to his death” by his trusted friend, the Central Criminal Court was told today.

Whelan’s sister, Hazel Grainger, told the court in a victim impact statement that “the sickening part” was that her brother trusted Anthony Casserly, who had come to their family home that night when everyone was “frantically trying to locate Wayne”.

Holding up a photo of her brother and Casserly to the court, she said: “This photo shows how Wayne trusted this man”.

The court heard that Casserly had lured Whelan to his death under the pretence of inviting him to watch a soccer match between Ireland and Denmark.

Evidence was also given that the victim’s remains were found in the passenger seat of the burning car and he was so badly burned that he had to be identified by DNA analysis.

Last October, Christopher Moran (52), who had been on trial at the time for murder at the Central Criminal Court, pleaded guilty to being the getaway driver for the fatal shooting. His co-accused Anthony Casserly (25) then pleaded guilty to participating in or contributing to the murder of Wayne Whelan. Both pleas were accepted by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).

Whelan (42) was shot dead at Mount Andrew Rise in Lucan, Co Dublin on the evening of 18 November 2019 and the car in which he was sitting was set on fire with his remains inside. Whelan was well known to gardaí for his involvement in serious and organised crime for more than two decades and had been shot a number of times in a previous murder attempt two months before his death. Four men have been jailed for their roles in that attempted murder.

Moran and Casserly, both of Rowlagh Park, Clondalkin, went on trial last October having pleaded not guilty to Whelan’s murder at Mount Andrew Rise on 18 November 2019. However, Mr Justice David Keane discharged the jury after Shane Costelloe SC for the DPP indicated that pleas to lesser charges would be accepted by the State.

Moran pleaded guilty to an offence under Section 7(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1997 for impeding the apprehension of an offender. His indictment states that he acted as a getaway driver in the murder of Wayne Whelan.

Casserly pleaded guilty to an offence under Section 72 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 that he, with knowledge of the existence of a criminal organisation, participated in or contributed to the murder.

Victim impact statement

At the defendants’ sentence hearing today, a victim impact statement was read to the court by Whelan’s sister, Hazel Grainger, who said that she never thought she would be in court talking about her brother in the “past tense” and described it as “utterly devastating”.

The witness said her brother was a family man, son, father, brother, husband, grandfather, grandson, nephew and most of all a friend. She said he was “the apple of my nan’s eye”, the first born baby boy to her parents and also the first grandchild. “He was absolutely doted on by the whole family and idolised all of us. He made everyone feel so special, valued and could talk about most things,” she said.

Grainger said her brother, who was extremely generous and a loyal person, was robbed from their family in “such a horrendous way”. “He would give you the shirt off his back,” she added. She said Wayne wanted his family around him all the time.

She continued: “We are such a close knit family and we did absolutely everything together. Wayne had a big circle of friends that he treated like a family, they ranged from all ages”.

The “sickening part of this”, Grainger said, is that Casserly became “one of those friends” and that Wayne had brought him into their family. Holding up a photo of her brother and Casserly to the court, she said: “This photo shows how Wayne trusted this man”.

She added: “Wayne also had family outings with this man so when Wayne said he was going to watch a football game with Anto it was not unusual”.

“He was taken from all of us in a horrendous way and we couldn’t even say goodbye, his lifeless body set on fire. We feel absolutely robbed and will never get over this heartache”.

On 18 November, she said, “news broke” that a man was found in a burning car.

“Anto was one of the many people who came into our family home that night as everyone was frantically trying to locate Wayne. Rumours spread that Wayne was in the car. My mam and dad were watching the news when it was discovered that a car was burnt with a person inside, both said to each other we pity that poor family,” she said.

“Anto grew up down the road from us. Wayne had this picture especially done for Anto as a gift. Anto even said to another family friend the same night (18 November) – ‘We will go up to the Kildare outlet to buy funeral clothes’. Wayne had not even been identified at that stage. I feel sick thinking about it now, it sickens us all to the core. Anto even collected money from friends at this time to help Barbara [Whelan's wife] but never handed over a cent”.

Referring to her brother’s funeral, Grainger said there was a closed coffin and she is heartbroken at the thought of what her brother’s body looked like.

“Anto and his father came to pay his respects, he has absolutely no respect for us. It is so cold-hearted knowing what he was involved in. There are absolutely no winners here, we are robbed of Wayne. We are haunted by the fact that he was left alone, burning in a car. My mam and dad were robbed of their baby boy; no parent should ever have to lose a child,” she said. 

In summary, Grainger said that the worst thing is children in their family now know what murder and death is.

“It was not done by a monster on television but so called friends we all knew. Wayne hated being on his own and everyone who knew him knew this about him. We are devastated and will never get over this. He was robbed from us all, all in a stone’s throw from our family’s home. These last two years have been hell on earth for my family and no words could explain the exact impact this has had on our family. Some days it feels like a horror show that should be on television and not in everyday life”.

Sentence hearing

At today’s sentencing hearing, Detective Superintendent Mark O’Neill detailed the background to the incident, telling prosecution counsel Shane Costelloe SC that Casserly and Whelan were known to each other and were friends or “apparently friends right up to the point that” Whelan was murdered.

Detective Superintendent O’Neill told the court that Moran, who also lived in the Clondalkin area or occasionally in Kilmainham, was the uncle of Casserly. “They had a familiar relationship,” he said.

Outlining the events that led up to the incident, Costelloe said that Whelan was the subject of a “very serious attempted murder effort” on 4 September 2019, when he was shot up to 11 times but survived his wounds. He was then hospitalised and had only recently returned to live in his family home.

Detective Superintendent O’Neill said that this highlighted to the investigation team that Whelan was “safety conscious” of his movements and had only associated with people that he knew up to the time of his death.

Costelloe recounted the manner in which Whelan was “lured to his death” and said that the deceased was sitting next to his wife Barbara Harmon, when he received a phone call from Casserly that day, inviting him to go to the pub to watch the Ireland-Denmark soccer match.

Harmon’s understanding from the phone call was that her husband had agreed to watch the match that night with Casserly but the “details had to be ironed out”. Harmon told gardai that her husband left the house at 7.30pm that night.

Referring to CCTV footage which was shown to the court, Detective Superintendent O’Neill said a dark-coloured Toyota Corolla, which was involved in the murder of Whelan, was purchased at a Circle K garage on 13 November 2019. The court heard that at least one other person was involved in this enterprise.

The CCTV footage showed the Toyota Corolla parked up in Mount Andrew estate in Lucan after 5.50pm on 17 November. This was the car which Whelan got into when he was driven away to his death on the following evening, said the witness.

CCTV footage also showed a white Volkswagen Golf parked up at Rowlagh Park in Clondalkin at 4.50pm on 18 November, where Casserly can be seen getting out of the vehicle and walking into his house.

Gardaí learned the last call Whelan received before leaving his house that night was from a number associated with Casserly.

When Casserly was first interviewed by gardaí, he told them that he remained at home for the duration of the match from 5pm. However, the witness said the court would see from subsequent pieces of CCTV footage that Casserly was not at home that night.

CCTV footage showed the Volkswagen Golf entering the Mount Andrew estate and driving towards Mount Andrew Court at 7.21pm that evening.

At 7.33pm, Whelan is seen walking from his residence at Griffeen Park towards the Toyota Corolla car and getting into the front passenger seat.

The Toyota Corolla is burned out at Mount Andrew estate at 7.42pm and the Volkswagen Golf is seen leaving Mount Andrew estate a minute after the Toyota Corolla is set alight. The first call is made to emergency services at 7.45pm.

The Toyota Corolla was almost entirely destroyed and was “practically unrecognisable” as it is very extensively damaged, the court heard.

Costelloe said that it became apparent that someone was in the passenger seat of the car when responders arrived at the scene. “They had to cut asunder the car in order to remove the deceased’s body,” he said.

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An autopsy was performed by Assistant State Pathologist Dr Heidi Okkers and she found that Whelan received at least three gunshot wounds to the right side of his head.

“As he was sitting in the front passenger side, someone sitting behind and to the right fired three shots to the head. Dr Okkers could not say if there were only three wounds because of the extensive damage to his body. It was also complicated by previous injuries which he received only a couple of months before,” said Costelloe.

DNA analysis, the court heard, had to be performed on Whelan such was the extensive damage to his body during the fire.

Shortly afterwards, the court heard, “news started to leak out” on media websites that there was a car alight and a suspicion that someone was dead in the vehicle. Also, various text messages started to be exchanged from a WhatsApp group around two hours after the event indicating there was suspicion or concern that the person in the vehicle might be Whelan.

Costelloe said Whelan and Casserly were members of that WhatsApp group. Casserly had started to relay accounts in the group that he had not seen Whelan and had stayed at home rather than go to the pub to watch the match.

Counsel said that a group of people arrived at the home of Whelan’s mother to comfort her as there was news filtering out that it was likely Wayne who had been killed and set alight in the vehicle.

“Casserly goes to this home with someone else and whilst attending there represents to other people and repeats to Wayne’s mother that he hasn’t seen him and had stayed at home,” he said.

The person, Costelloe said, who drove Casserly home that night found his behaviour suspicious as he was saying “without any proof that the person in the car was” Whelan.

The court heard that Casserly was asked to provide a statement to gardaí, where he said he initially made a plan to meet with Whelan but that plan changed and instead he had stayed at home. It became apparent to gardaí that Casserly was lying about staying at home that night, which raised the suspicions of gardai that he may have been involved in the murder of Whelan. Following this, mobile phones belonging to two accused men were seized.

On Casserly’s phone on 16 November is a WhatsApp conversation between himself and an unidentified person, where he said he was in a “very bad place” in the days leading up to the murder and this unidentified person “would read all about it in the future”.

Casserly tells the person: “I had no choice, it will click with you when done”. The accused also says: “I’m sick of it. I’ll end up doing life”.

The court heard that the Volkswagen Golf, which was registered to Casserly, had been used by Moran in the days leading up to the murder. The car had been extensively valeted prior to it being seized on 19 November and the floor mats were still wet. Both men were then arrested and interviewed.

Casserly has 22 previous convictions which include 18 road traffic matters and four offences for possession of drugs. Moran has ten previous convictions with eight relating to drug offences and two road traffic offences.

Under cross-examination, O’Neill agreed with Michael Bowman SC, for Casserly, that text messages from him in the early hours of the morning on 16 November indicated that he felt under pressure to get involved in this incident.

One text message said: “I just want to be at peace. It’s never going to end. I’ll end up doing life. It’s just horrible”. Another said: “Mate I can’t even say the situation I’m in. I had no choice, It will click when you see it. I’m sorry for everything pal. I’ve turned into a scumbag, it’s not me mate”.

The witness also agreed with Ronan Prendergast BL, for Moran, that there was no direct contact between his client and the deceased. The court heard Moran’s partner had died when he was in custody last year and he was given compassionate bail to attend her funeral. He also has a chronic heart condition.

Bowman said that Casserly had effectively “lured” Whelan to his death and this had to be viewed as an aggravating factor due to the relationship between the parties. In mitigation, the barrister said that the accused had indicated in his text messages that this was clearly not a “scheme of his making” and he was being forced to do something, which he said he just could not do.

In his submissions, Bowman said his client wished to apologise to all parties for his actions which contributed to the death of Whelan.

Two families, the defendant said, had been destroyed by Whelan’s death and he must accept retribution for his actions. Casserly also expressed his genuine remorse and said he could not begin to understand the loss that the Whelan family must feel. He also said that he has distanced himself from people involved in crime.

Prendergast conveyed Moran’s apology for the role he played and said he was remorseful. Counsel said that another mitigating factor is that his client has significant health difficulties.

Mr Justice Keane remanded Moran in custody to 25 April, when a probation report will be produced and he will be given an opportunity to adduce further medical evidence. Casserly will be sentenced on 31 January.

About the author:

Alison O'Riordan

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