Charles Bowden: the lying 'supergrass'

One of the extraordinary features of the Veronica Guerin case relates to Charles Bowden.


In the course of interviews with gardaí involved in the investigation of the murder, Bowden said "I knew they planned to shoot her (Veronica Guerin). When I cleaned the gun, I knew that was the gun they were going to use to shoot her".

This made him an accomplice to the murder of Veronica Guerin and if his "admission" to the gardai had been accepted by a court he would have been convicted of murder. Yet the State entered into a deal with him, guaranteeing he could never be prosecuted for a murder of which he was clearly guilty (on his own alleged admission). In July 1997 the Director of Public Prosecutions granted Charles Bowden and his fellow "supergrass", Russell Warren, immunity for a murder charge. The undertaking was as follows (this is taken from the book Evil Empire by Paul Williams):

"The Director has taken the following decision which is unconditional and irrevocable. He will not prosecute Charles Bowden for the murder of Veronica Guerin on the basis of (a) any statement, made orally or in writing by Charles Bowden up to today's date; (b) any further statement made orally or in writing which Charles Bowden may in the future make to a member of the Garda Síochána in the course of their investigation into the possible involvement of other persons in that murder; (c) any evidence which Charles Bowden may give in criminal proceedings against any other person".

It subsequently emerged that Bowden and Warren were not just given immunity from a murder prosecution but other facilities, including funds, special conditions in prison, special visiting conditions and other favours. Thus, while it could be argued (and was argued) that the deal on immunity from a murder charge was "water under the bridge" and the "superegrasses" could not benefit further from that by giving false evidence to procure the conviction of others, the on-going favours could be regarded as continuing inducements to give evidence that they knew the State wished them to give, irrespective of its veracity.

Instead of being charged with the murder of Veronica Guerin, Bowden was charged instead with drugs and firearms offences and on 8 October 1997 he was sentenced to six years in prison.

Bowden was the first person to be admitted to the State's witness protection programme.

As the first "supergrass" his evidence helped secure the convictions of Brian Meehan and Paul Ward for their part in the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin. (Paul Ward's conviction was subsequently overturned).

A judge described Bowden as "a vicious criminal. . .who would lie without hesitation and regardless of the consequences for others if he perceived it to be in his own interest to do so".

The Court of Criminal Appeal was critical of the way the gardaí conducted negotiations with Charles Bowden over the terms of the witness protection programme, particularly as gardaí did not keep notes during their meetings with him.

"While the court accepts there is no obligation on the gardaí to keep notes of such meetings, nevertheless the absence of notes can give rise to suspicions or inferences that matters were discussed which might be described as inducements to the witnesses, not only to give evidence, but to give evidence satisfactory to the prosecution," the Court said.

Charles Bowden was born in Finglas in Dublin. He served in the army for six years in the 1980s before being discharged over an alleged assault.

John Byrne