Veronica Guerin's murder: Was the Sunday Independent to blame?

One of the key issues to emerge after the death of Veronica Guerin was the role played by her employers, the Sunday Independent and whether they could have done more to protect her.


Paddy Prendiville editor of the Phoenix Magazine has emerged as the newspaper's fiercest critic on the subject and is supported by Veronica's younger brother Jimmy Guerin. Prendiville was a close friend of Veronica's and is a long standing critic of the Sunday Independent.

At the heart of their argument is the allegation that it was the Sunday Independent's pursuit of sensational stories to boost sales, that resulted in Veronica taking the risks that led to her death and that the paper could have done more to protect Veronica.
A month after Veronica's murder, Jimmy Guerin wrote to The Irish Times, claiming that Veronica's life had being in danger for two years and that steps could have been taken to prevent her death. “No story is worth the life of a reporter”, he said “if… you have a reporter who insists on working alone, then in future an editor must say No.”
Willie Kealy, news editor of The Sunday Independent rejects these criticisms. “They're nonsense. We constantly discussed Veronica's safety and after she was shot we installed a security system in her home, put in new guidelines and insisted she avail of garda protection. It was not obvious to us, her husband or her family that she was going to be killed,” he said. Mr Kealy said that following her shooting in the leg, Veronica was offered alternative work including political reporting but had turned the offer down, saying she loved the work she was doing.
Jimmy Guerin's criticism of the Sunday Independent has sparked a bitter division within the Guerin family. His older brother and two sisters, as well as Veronica's husband Graham Turley, have disassociated themselves from his public comments. Privately, Jimmy's siblings are no longer talking to him.
Apart from a brief statement at Veronica's inquest in May 1997, rebutting criticisms made by Jimmy of the Sunday Independent, the remaining members of Veronica's family, have maintained a silence and refused all media requests for interview. However, speaking with the knowledge of his two sisters Marie Therèse and Claire, Martin Guerin agreed to be interviewed by Magill:
“What more could The Sunday Independent have done? Veronica was my sister. If I thought for a moment that there was one thing, just one thing more that could have been done to prevent Veronica's murder, I would be down on the Independent. But, there wasn't. We don't blame the Sunday Independent.
“Nobody knew she was going to be murdered. Anyone who says the newspaper should have known is speaking with hindsight. 20/20 vision is a great thing. It was not obvious to me or her family that she was going to be shot. If it was, wouldn't we have taken her aside and put an end to it'.
Prendiville and Jimmy Guerin believe a lot more could have been done. Jimmy Guerin lists out the sequence of attacks on Veronica between September 1994 and June 1996 when she was murdered. In September ‘94 Veronica received a garda warning that she was under threat from an inner city criminal. A month later shots were fired into her home in Cloghran, in north county Dublin seconds after she had walked out of a room to put her five-year-old son to bed.
In January 1995, a gunman shot Veronica in the leg in her north Dublin home; eight months later she was allegedly beaten up by John Gilligan when she visited his home in Co Meath; the following day Gilligan allegedly phoned Veronica and threatened to harm her son. On 26 June 1996, Veronica was shot dead on the Naas dual carriage-way as she was driving into town. The totality and sequence of the warnings, says Jimmy Guerin, should have resulted in the Independent forbidding Veronica to continue her crime reporting.
Martin Guerin disagrees: “Anyone can build a case in hindsight. The state provided her with protection and she didn't want it. If the Independent had given her private security, she would have felt the same. Even if, as has been suggested, the Independent had put a team of reporters on high risk stories, I don't believe that would have prevented what happened to Veronica. A newspaper cannot guarantee the safety of a journalist doing the sort of work Veronica was doing” he said.
According to Willie Kealy, Veronica would have left the Sunday Independent if he or the paper's editor Aengus Fanning had forbidden her to continue her work into the criminal underworld. He said she had received an attractive offer from The Sunday Times.
Garda sources close to Veronica told Magill she was warned many times about the dangers she was facing.
A senior garda office said: “She was totally without fear. She had absolutely no fear. She was always in fighting mood and had boundless energy. I did try to warn her off (the criminals). It was clear that the type of people she was pursuing would try to do her harm. It was quite obvious that she was at serious risk. But she dispensed with the protection we had put on her after she was shot in the leg. We tried to advise her afterwards but she said she couldn't carry out her work professionally. She said it was affecting her work,” he said.
Another criticism Prendiville and Jimmy Guerin make of the Sunday Independent, concerns the paper's handling of the Traynor affidavit. Two weeks before Veronica was murdered, John Traynor, a 50-year-old Dublin criminal and one of Veronica's main sources, applied for an injunction to stop the newspaper printing a story by Veronica alleging that Traynor was involved in the sale or supply of drugs.
Counsel for the Sunday Independent gave an undertaking that no article would be published and this was continued at two further hearings.
A further hearing was due to take place on Monday, July 1, but Veronica was murdered the previous Wednesday. Although counsel for Traynor offered to postpone the hearing in the light of the murder, the Sunday Independent insisted on going ahead.
The hearing was a disaster from the Independent's point of view. Traynor's affidavit portrayed Veronica as a bully and a vindictive person and alleged that the paper's editor Aengus Fanning had put pressure on Veronica to write a story about Traynor, which she knew to be false. Unfortunately, this statement was not countered by an affidavit from the Independent. It meant that Traynor's allegations and depiction of Veronica went unchallenged. The judge did not accept that Veronica's murder prevented the defense from filing an affidavit. He granted an injunction to Traynor and criticised Independent Newspapers for failing to file an affidavit. .
Magill had learnt that prior to the court hearing The Sunday Independent faced a major dilemma. If they fought the injunction and won, the paper would come under pressure to publish a story naming Traynor as a major drugs dealer or lose credibility.
A reliable legal source confirmed that The Sunday Independent did not have this level of proof on Traynor. To do so would require a high standard of proof at a time when even the gardai did not have sufficient evidence to bring charges.