Veronica's murder investigation a fiasco AND Her known killer never charged

Only one person is now in jail because of Veronica Guerin's murder and he has a good chance of being released on appeal. By Vincent Browne

Veronica Guerin's murder 10 years ago caused national trauma. There was a public perception the country was in the control of crime bosses. Emergency legislation was rushed through the Oireachtas to cope with the threat of organised crime. John Bruton, the then Taoiseach, claimed her murder represented an attack on democracy. He said in the Dáil on the morning after her murder: "The full resources of the State are being applied to finding and bringing to justice those who committed this murder and those who inspired and directed it."

Nineteen newspaper editors said in a statement: "Veronica Guerin was murdered for being a journalist... We view this assassination as a fundamental attack on the free press, which is essential to the democratic process."

The most comprehensive murder investigation in the history of the State was launched.

But 10 years afterwards, only one person, Brian Meehan, is in jail because of her murder and he has a good chance of being released on appeal. Organised crime is more of a threat than it was 10 years ago. The availability of illicit drugs is more prevalent than it was 10 years ago and hardly anyone now believes that her murder had anything to do with her journalism.

The Special Criminal Court, in one of the murder cases arising from her killing, found that the motivation for her murder had nothing to do with anything she wrote. It held:

"As for motivation for the crimes: an incident had occurred between Ms Guerin and [John Gilligan] it seems in or about January 1996, in which she had had an encounter with him and he had struck her. She reported the matter to the police and [Gilligan] was charged with assault. This enraged him because on imprisonment, on foot of a likely jail sentence, grave harm would be done to his cannabis empire because he would be prevented from purchasing supplies and arranging for the importation of the product into Ireland... The end result was that a plot was hatched to murder Ms Guerin and thus the prosecution which she had initiated against [Gilligan] would have to be dropped, as it was dependent on her evidence."

But the finding of the court, along with the Garda assertion that John Gilligan was responsible for her murder, is now in doubt. Certainly the motivation ascribed for her murder now seems implausible for reasons that will be outlined in Village next week.

As described by Frank Connolly on the next page, three months after Veronica Guerin's murder, in October 1996, gardaí arrested and interrogated one of the suspects, Charles Bowden. And although he admitted to having supplied the murder weapon, knowing it would be used in the murder, he was never charged with murder (supplying the weapon knowing it would be used in a murder makes the supplier guilty of murder). This had never happened before in Ireland. Bowden was granted immunity from a murder charge in return for agreeing to give evidence against others suspected of involvement in the murder, notably, John Gilligan.

One of those charged with the murder of Veronica Guerin was Paul Ward. He was convicted of the murder in the Special Criminal Court but that conviction was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeal. It emerged in court that during Paul Ward's detention at the headquarters of the Garda investigation into the murder, Lucan Garda station, a series of extraordinary events took place.

Ward was arrested on a Monday and brought to Lucan. He was interrogated there throughout Monday and into Tuesday. On Tuesday evening he was visited in the station by his mother and girlfriend. Following the visits, according to interrogating gardaí, he made incriminating statements acknowledging his part in the murder. Although this would have represented a major breakthrough in the murder investigation, the interrogating gardaí told no one at the station about the breakthrough.

On the following morning, two separate teams of gardaí interrogated Paul Ward again, not knowing of the "breakthrough" of the previous night. Only at midday, when the interrogating gardaí of the previous evening arrived in the station, did it become known that "admissions" had been made.

The Special Criminal Court rejected Garda evidence that Paul Ward had made these admissions. Commenting on these curious events, the court said: "This indicates either incredible disorganisation in the murder investigation, despite the fact there was a continuously manned incident room at Lucan Garda station, or there was no memorandum of the interview [during which the "admissions" were made] at the time and it came into existence later."

A Garda investigation subsequently found there was nothing remiss in what had occurred. It was inferred the blame lay with prosecution lawyers who failed to call witnesses who could have explained what had occurred – an entirely implausible explanation.

In a related case involving Patrick Holland, who was cited by gardaí to have been the person who shot Veronica Guerin at close range, Holland made himself available to gardaí for interrogation by coming back from the UK of his own volition. But precisely at the time he was taken into Garda custody, his solicitor, Jim Orange, was also arrested – supposedly as part of an inquiry into Holland's property possessions – depriving Holland of his preferred legal advice while he was being detained by gardaí.

Another solicitor's office, Michael E Hanahoe, was also raided at the time, allegedly as part of an investigation into John Gilligan's possessions. The media were tipped off in advance of gardaí receiving a search warrant from the District Court.

The main trial arising from the murder of Veronica Guerin, that of John Gilligan, failed to secure his conviction on the murder charge. This was because the Special Criminal Court found that the evidence of the chief prosecution witness, Charles Bowden, unreliable, especially given the inducements that had been made to him to become a State witness and the lies he was found to have told in the course of his evidence.

In short the only evidence of any consequence the gardaí found concerning the murder of Veronica Guerin came from two "supergrasses" (accomplices who were granted immunity from prosecution for murder and other inducements). Because of doubts concerning the reliability of such evidence, it is likely that Brian Meehan, the only person now in jail for Veronica Guerin's murder, will be acquitted on appeal.

Gardaí had clear evidence against one person, Charles Bowden, who himself admitted to participation in the preparation of the murder. But they decided not to prosecute him. This fiasco has never been the subject of any overall inquiry, within An Garda Sochána or otherwise.

Veronica's known killer never charged

Charles Bowden was involved in Veronica Guerin's murder but was never charged. By Frank Connolly

One of the killers of Veronica Guerin was given immunity from a murder prosecution by the State, even though he had made admissions to the Garda which would have secured his conviction. The man admitted to supplying and priming the gun used in the killing, knowing it would be used for that purpose. He also admitted to seeing the murder weapon after the murder.

There is evidence that this person, Charles Bowden, actually perpetrated the killing – firing several shots into the head and body of Veronica Guerin as she sat in her car at traffic lights at Newlands Cross outside Dublin on 26 June 1996 just before 1pm.

Another major suspect in the crime, John Traynor, was never charged and now lives in Spain. In one of its judgments in cases concerning the murder, the Special Criminal Court identified John Traynor as a likely prime mover in the murder.

Charles Bowden did a deal with the Garda Síochána and the DPP that, in return for not being prosecuted for the murder of Veronica Guerin, he would give evidence against the person gardaí were convinced was the prime mover in the murder, John Gilligan. Bowden also gave evidence against others believed to have been involved in the murder – Paul Ward and Brian Meehan. Bowden also gave evidence against Patrick "Dutchy" Holland. He later boasted to gardaí that it was his evidence against Patrick Holland which secured Holland's conviction on drugs charges and a 20-year sentence.

In no other case has the State done a deal not to prosecute a person for murder in return for evidence that might convict others for the same murder. Bowden and another accomplice witness, Russell Warren, were the first criminals to benefit from the Witness Protection Programme and were relocated with their families outside the country.

Garda dealings with Charles Bowden commenced in October 1996, three months after the murder of Veronica Guerin, and continued until May 1997.

Bowden was a member of the drugs gang led by John Gilligan. He regularly collected shipments of cannabis at the Ambassador hotel near Naas and brought them to warehouses he rented in Dublin between 1994 and 1996. He divided the shipments and distributed them to various dealers across the city and to a major dealer in the North. He collected guns with some of the shipments, including one in January 1996 which contained a machine gun and the .357 Magnum and ammunition used to kill Veronica Guerin.

In evidence he gave in the trials of various people prosecuted in connection with the murder of Veronica Guerin, Charles Bowden said he overheard other gang members, including Brian Meehan, Shay Ward and Peter Mitchell, discuss plans to shoot Veronica Guerin. He said that he polished, prepared and loaded the gun used to kill her. He said he saw the gun after the killing.

In the course of several of these cases, he gave evidence that was later acknowledged to have been perjured evidence. This included evidence to do with his whereabouts on the morning of the murder. In a statement to gardaí he said he was at the hairdressing salon of his partner, Juliet Bacon, in Moore St, that morning. But phone records showed he was at his home near Blackhorse Avenue and had ordered a taxi around 11.30am. He was also in Moore Street in the company of Brian Meehan in the afternoon following the murder, although he denied a claim by defence counsel for Paul Ward that he was there to dispose of the murder weapon. He later gave gardaí a cache of weapons he had hidden in the Jewish graveyard in west Dublin.

The Court of Criminal Appeal, in overturning the conviction of Paul Ward for the murder of Veronica Guerin, said of Charles Bowden: "The court accepts without any doubt that Charles Bowden is a self-serving, deeply avaricious and potentially vicious criminal. On his own admission he is a liar and the court readily accepts that he 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 fully appreciates that assessment of his evidence must be made with great caution and with the foregoing firmly in mind."

In the course of his dealings with gardaí as a "supergrass" he bartered with them on the amount of money he would receive from them. A senior official in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, drafted a memo suggesting Bowden and fellow "supergrass" Russell Warren would be granted temporary release, depending on the evidence they gave in the Gilligan and other cases.

The evidence that he may have been the direct killer of Veronica Guerin is based on statements of witnesses to the murder who said a pillion passenger on a motorbike that drove up to Veronica Guerin's car as it was stopped at Newlands Cross was six foot tall. Gardaí later briefed journalists that the killer was Patrick Holland, who is just five foot nine.

Bowden acknowledged having the gun that killed Veronica Guerin, admitted to preparing the gun for the killing, to seeing it after the murder and to being versed in the use of guns.

Bowden, from Finglas in Dublin, was born into a large family. He was a member of the defence forces, becoming a corporal. He has a black belt in Karate and is a top marksman. While a member of the Defence Forces, he assaulted a number of army recruits whom he then threatened and forced to give false evidence to a disciplinary inquiry. He was discharged from the army and worked as a bouncer at the Hogan Stand pub in Camden Street, Dublin. He separated from his wife and later lived with his partner, Juliet Bacon.

He became involved in the drugs trade in the early 1990s, along with another well-known drugs criminal, Peter Mitchell, a Gilligan gang-member. Bowden first sold ecstasy and then large amounts of cannabis for Brian Meehan, another one of the Gilligan gang and the only person convicted in connection with the murder of Veronica Guerin (that conviction is due to be appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal). When he was arrested in October 1996 he was found in possession of large amounts of cash and had plans to travel to England. In February 1997, he jumped bail after another gang member, Paul Ward, was charged with murder. He was escorted back to Ireland after being arrested in England in March 1997.

On 7 October 1997, as part of his deal with the State, Bowden pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court to the possession of illegal drugs with intent to supply. He was given a six-year sentence.

His evidence was crucial in securing the conviction of Paul Ward and Brian Meehan for the murder of Veronica Guerin – Ward's conviction was later overturned. Bowden's evidence was also crucial to the conviction of Patrick Holland and John Gilligan on drugs charges – curiously the court, while accepting Bowden's evidence on the drugs charges, disregarded his evidence on the murder charge which Gilligan also faced. Gilligan was acquitted on a murder charge and given 12- and 28-year consecutive sentences respectively for possession of and supplying drugs. This was later reduced to 20 years on appeal while a further charge of assaulting a prison officer was recently reduced from five to two years. Holland received a 20-year sentence, susequently reduced to 12 on appeal.

John Traynor, now living in Spain, also escaped charges related to the murder of Veronica Guerin although there was reason to suspect he had a motive for murdering the journalist.


Early 1994: John Dunne a freight manager of Seabridge in Cork, was asked to cooperate in the importation of unspecified material. In April 1994 the first consignment arrived, labeled "car parts". On these requests he brought the consignment to the car park of the Ambassador hotel, outside Naas. This was the first of many such consignments deliveries, for each of which Dunne was paid £1,000.

Charles Bowden collected these consignments from October 1994 onwards and took them to various lock-up premises rented by him, at Emmet Road, Inchicore, Ballymount Industrial Estate, and latterly Unit 1 B at Greenmount Industrial Estate, Harold's Cross.

Bowden opened the consignments which he said contained cannabis resin. An associate, Brian Meehan, allegedly instructed him to make deliveries to various individuals which he did. Later, Bowden, allegedly, was assisted by the Ward brothers, Paul and Shay.

Bowden, along with other members of the gang involved in this operation, made huge sums of money from the venture.

26 June 1996: Veronica Guerin was shot dead at the Boot Road junction on the Naas Road in Dublin.

30 September 1996: Russell Warren, an associate, was arrested and detained for 48 hours. He was re-arrested on 19 October and detained for a further 48-hour period.

6 October 1996: Charles Bowden was arrested and detained for 48 hours. During interrogation he made admissions of involvement in the drugs trade and of supplying the weapon used to murder Veronica Guerin. He was charged only with a minor drugs offence. He got bail. While on bail he had several meetings with gardaí, during one of which £10,000, which the gardaí had reason to suspect was derived from his criminal activities, was returned to him.

12 February 1997: Bowden skipped bail and went to England. There he was arrested and extradited back to Ireland. He was remanded to Mountjoy. At that stage he made several allegations to gardaí about the activities of associates, notably John Gilligan. He was then given immunity from a murder prosecution, as was his associate Russell Warren, on the understanding they would give evidence against John Gilligan and others.