A Kept Man
“Paul Ward told me he was going to be arrested for the murder on the night. He told me this on the night I signed the blank passport forms”
“I gave a court official £40 or £50 to pull summonses”
“Long told me he already had a friend in the force”
Garda John O'Neill
One of the criminals who bribed Garda John O'Neill already had a garda in his pocket when O'Neill came looking for money, according to statements obtained by Magill.
Tony Long handed O'Neill $5,000 in cash on September 3 1996, but the money came from suspected heroin dealer, Derek (Di Di ) Driscoll, from Croftwood in Ballyfermot. “He told me he already had a friend in the force, but Driscoll didn't. I was given £5,000 cash by Long, but the money came from Driscoll,” O'Neill told Inspector Tom O'Laughlin following his arrest on October 17 1996.
O'Neill was jailed on April 3 for four and a half years for corruption but may be out after 18 months following a sentence review. The £45,000 fines imposed on Long and Driscoll on the same day has placed them in something of a quandary. Although both are unemployed, they were described in court as men of “substance and affluence”. They are aware that paying the hefty fines will attract attention from the Criminal Assets Bureau and senior gardaí are predicting that both will opt “to do the 12 months in default rather than pay up.”
Long, a former chairperson of the Concerned Parents Committee, was sentenced to a total of 28 years in Liverpool in 1992, having been found with two semi-automatic rifles, a .357 magnum and a .38 Smith & Wesson handgun. He and fellow convict James Mahas escaped from Winston Green Prison in 1994 and he returned to Dublin, where he subsequently became involved with 24-year-old Driscoll. Long, who owns substantial lands in Co Meath, handed over the money in Long's workshop at the rear of his detached home at 18 Camac Park, Bluebell. Long taped the transaction as “insurance” on the £5,000 investment. Long and Driscoll were arrested within a day of each other on November 28, 1996, but despite extensive searches, gardaí failed to locate the tape.
By the time O'Neill approached Long, the ex-garda was already being bankrolled by Veronica Guerin murder suspect Brian Meehan, but because he pleaded guilty the extent of his involvement with the murder gang did not emerge. However, statements obtained by Magill from a criminal source show that O'Neill confessed to signing passport forms for murder suspect Shay Ward, to bribing a serving court official to “pull warrants” in return for regular pay-offs from Paul Ward, and to tipping off a shop owner to imminent raids by gardaí looking for counterfeit goods.
At 7.15pm on October 9, 1996, O'Neill was on duty at Tallaght Garda Station when he took a call from Paul Ward. “He gave me two passport forms and asked me to sign them with the official garda stamp” said O'Neill. “He also gave me four photographs of Shay Ward. I recognised him as Shay Ward, as I had charged him with unauthorised taking in 1989.” When asked if he was aware that Paul Ward and Brian Meehan were suspects for the Guerin murder, O'Neill replied: “Paul Ward told me that he believed he was going to be arrested for the murder. He told me this on the night I signed the blank passport forms for him.”
Senior garda sources say they seized the illegal forms from the Passport Office in Dublin before they could be picked up, but they dismiss O'Neill's claim that he was unaware of Shay Ward's status as a suspect in the Guerin murder investigation. “By October, his name was all over the papers. He couldn't not have known; the dogs in the street knew by then,” a high-ranking source told Magill.
Four days after he signed the passport forms, and being watched by undercover detectives, O'Neill met Paul Ward in the car park of the Cuckoo's Nest pub on Dublin's Greenhills Road, not far from O'Neill's home at Kingswood Heights. As O'Neill sat in his 95D Land Rover with the internal light on, Ward emerged from the pub and joined O'Neill in the jeep. Both men sat and studied some papers together and, at 8.40pm, Ward got out and O'Neill drove off towards the Submarine Bar in Walkinstown. Unknown to O'Neill, he had been placed under surveillance after his two mobile numbers, 087 595101 and 087 405454, showed up more than 50 times on lists belonging to key criminals, including Ward and Meehan.
At 7pm on October 17, four days after the Cuckoo's Nest meeting, six gardaí arrived at O'Neill's detached home at 34 The Rise, Kingswood Heights. The team was led by Detective Inspector Jerry O'Connell, one of the chief investigators into the Guerin murder. When O'Neill was asked if he had anything illegal in the house, he replied: “No, no, I don't have anything in the house. Why would I have anything in the house? I've only got a sawn-off shotgun; it's upstairs in the wardrobe.” On a top shelf over the bed, Detective Benny Gilchrist found the single-barrel shotgun and two cartridges; in the kitchen, Detective Michael Gaynor found an air pistol on top of a cupboard. Nestling in the corner of a built-in unit in the bedroom lay a file marked “Courts.” Inside it, detectives found a bench warrant for Fiona Walsh of 25 Greek Street. Walsh is a former girlfriend of Brian Meehan, of Crumlin, who is charged with the murder of Veronica Guerin.
O'Neill was taken first to Harcourt Square, then to Naas Garda Station and, finally, to Lucan, to confront Ward, who was being held there. “I have told them about Meehan putting me on the payroll to tip you off about anything the guards were doing in relation to the Guerin murder. I have told everything,” O'Neill told a stunned Paul Ward.
O'Neill joined An Garda Síochána on November 5, 1985, and was awarded the Scott Medal for Bravery for his actions in foiling an armed robbery in August 1990. Most of his career was spent in the large Tallaght station, apart for a three-year stint in Crumlin. His fall from grace, he said, was brought on by debts to the tune of £100,000, and he was desperate for cash. “I owed money on my mortgage, four credit-union loans and the lease on my car. My mortgage was £430 a month,” he told gardaí.
O'Neill was introduced to Ward in November 1995 by Martin Ryan, the manager of the Deep Nightclub in Stillorgan, where O'Neill worked as a bouncer in early 1995.
“He [Ward] gave me a £1,500 loan in cash. He told me he might have a summons for me to look after now and again,” admitted O'Neill. Far from paying the loan back, the detective realised he had established a source of ready cash. “I asked him if he had any more money, as I had ferocious debts. I asked him for another £1,000 and he gave me this shortly before Christmas, about a week or two after he gave me the £1,500,” said O'Neill. “I got the £1,000 from him in the car park of the Belgard Inn.”
Eight weeks later it was payback time. The criminal gave O'Neill summonses belonging to his friends and ordered the garda to have them “pulled.” “I gave these summonses to [named court official] and he pulled the summonses for me,” said O'Neill. No money changed hands on that occasion, but four or five times in 1996 O'Neill gave the official “£40 or £50” a time for pulling summonses.” The money would be in an envelope with the summonses. “There was never any problem getting [named official] to withdraw summonses,” said O'Neill.
In May 1996, O'Neill asked the criminal for £2,000. “He went off and returned in about five or ten minutes and gave me the money. The money would either be in an envelope or he would just take it out of his pocket and count it out and hand it to me,” said O'Neill. “Around this time he asked me could I get two warrants from Galway for the committal of a fellow named Kavanagh.” A few days later, O'Neill went to the warrants cabinet in Tallaght Garda Station, removed the Kavanagh warrants from the folder, gave them to the criminal and received £500 in cash. “Did you ever suspect the source of their cash?” asked Inspector Thomas O'Loughlin during questioning. “No. I suspected they were into cannabis, but they had legitimate business as well,” he replied.
Although O'Neill neither drank, smoked nor gambled, he lived an otherwise flamboyant lifestyle for someone on a garda salary of around £27,000 a year gross. His £100,000 home had a television in every room, he often changed his car and took frequent holidays abroad. He bought a £2,800 motorcycle for his eldest son and a trailer for £1,800. In 1995, he borrowed £15,000 for a new Renault Laguna, which he traded in for a 1996 model a year later. He borrowed £2,200 from the credit unions to add to the price of the new car, took out another loan for the car insurance and borrowed £10,000 from the AIB “for Christmas.”
“If he saw something, he just bought it—cars, new clothes, things for the house, he just had to have them. He couldn't sustain that on a guard's salary,” said a senior detective. Except that O'Neill wasn't living on a guard's salary.
Between November 1, 1995, and June 1996, O'Neill accepted £11,000 in bribes, in sums ranging from £100 to £2,500. Warrants and summonses were pulled left, right and centre. He took £500 from the criminal for pulling a summons belonging to Brain Meehan and a further £500 for one relating to his sister, Vanessa Meehan. Both were for motoring offences. He confessed to taking £200 for pulling the summonses against Fiona Walsh. He also admitted alerting a Dublin shop owner to nine impending garda raids for illegal fireworks in October 1995 and to later taking £600 in separate payments withdrawing summonses against him.
And still the money kept rolling in. The statements obtained by Magill include five pages of names, addresses and offences for which warrants or summonses were withdrawn by O'Neill—and for which he received a grand total of £16,100. In short, John Christopher O'Neill was a kept man.
On May 16, 1996, the criminal asked O'Neill to see if there was a warrant for Michael Byrne of Ronanstown, Clondalkin. The criminal promised O'Neill that he would get £2,000 in cash plus information on where three kilos of cannabis were hidden once he showed him the warrant. “I tore the warrant up in front of [the criminal]. I also destroyed the warrants which I had taken concerning Kavanagh. I burned them in the fire at my home,” said O'Neill. He found the three kilos as arranged, and took it to Tallaght Garda Station. Detectives investigating O'Neill believe the “find” was part of a criminal strategy aimed at getting him promoted. The higher up he went, the more useful he would be to the criminal gang.
And, for a time, he must have though he would get away with it. “He probably would have,” said a detective, “until Veronica Guerin was murdered and the sky fell in on the lot of them.” On June 26, 1996, O'Neill was cleaning his son's motorbike in the front garden when his neighbour Rose Cooney ran out of her house and asked O'Neill if he knew who had been shot. “I replied ‘no' and she told me [that it was] Veronica Guerin.”
Two days after the murder, O'Neill met the criminal in the car park of the Submarine Bar. The garda was due to fly out to Spain on June 30 for a fortnight's holiday. “I told him I was going on holidays and I was stuck for a few bob. He gave me three or four hundred pounds,” said O'Neill. “He said that's all he had. He did not stay long. He never spent more than five or ten minutes with me because he was afraid to be seen with me. When the heat came on and John Gilligan was mentioned in the papers, I asked him [the criminal] if they were involved in the murder of Veronica Guerin.”
O'Neill accepted the criminal's assurance that they were not. He took the money, packed his bags and headed for sunny Salou with his wife, Rita Kelly, and their three children, 14-year-old John, 13-year-old Joseph and nine-year-old Jennifer. Included in his holiday fund was a loan of £2,000 from Paddy Ward, whom he had known since 1986 through football. Ward, who owns two grocery shops in west Tallaght, also gave O'Neill £100 for destroying a summons.
On his return from Spain, O'Neill again found himself in urgent need of cash. His EBS mortgage was £1,800 overdue, he was £397 in arrears to the Garda Credit Union and he owed money to the AIB in Crumlin. In early August, two months after the Guerin murder, O'Neill met Brian Meehan in a field off Beechfield Road. “I knew Meehan was a criminal. Meehan told me he was putting me on the payroll at £500 per week for looking after himself, Peter Mitchell and Paul Ward.” In return, O'Neill agreed to “look after summonses” and keep Meehan informed of garda developments in the Guerin murder investigation. “I was to look out for anything being said officially, or if there was going to be any surveillance put on them. I agreed to do this but I didn't do it, nor had I the means to do it,” said O'Neill.
“All the monies I got was always in cash. On some occasions I lodged some of the money and paid bills with the rest. I lodged either £2,000 or £3,000 of the money I got from Tony Long in the AIB in Tallaght.” In his statement of October 17, O'Neill admitted that he knew the calibre of the people he was dealing with, “but the availability of money to get myself out of trouble attracted me.”
“He made a frank confession,” recalled a detective, “but only when he knew there was no way out.” O'Neill resigned from the force at 3.10pm on October 18, 1996. The following night, he was brought to Dublin District Court and charged with perverting the course of justice, with accepting bribes of £16,100 and with firearms offences. O'Neill was sentenced to four and a half years, but this will be reviewed in October 1999. Effectively, he may serve just 18 months in prison.
From his first court appearance until his conviction on Friday April 3, 1998, ex-garda John O'Neill worked at a couple of casual jobs, mainly driving. One of them entailed working for a hacker, delivering Independent Group newspapers.