Police in the Irish Republic are questioning four people as part of an inquiry into death threats against a Dublin journalist, a police officer and a witness.
The journalist is veteran crime writer Mick McCaffrey of the Sunday World, whose reporting is said to have infuriated a leading member of a particularly dangerous Dublin family involved in violent crime.
The episode is being taken very seriously because of the family’s history – two members are serving lengthy prison terms for murder – and because members of another gang shot dead Dublin journalist Veronica Guerin some years ago.
The threat is said to have been issued by a family member awaiting trial for a shooting and other serious offences. He allegedly took strong exception to a story written by Mr McCaffrey.
This individual is still in custody but police believe he contacted relatives, urging them to shoot Mr McCaffrey. The journalist moved house for a time after receiving a formal police warning that his life was in danger. A threat is also believed to have been made against a policeman and a potential witness.
Six people, including two women, were arrested for questioning earlier this week. Two have since been released but four others were still under interrogation last night after police applied for an extension to their period in custody under anti-gang legislation.
Laws aimed at the dangerous criminal underworld were strengthened after the 1991 killing of Veronica Guerin, which caused an outcry. But although there have been police successes against the criminals, gangland murders are by no means a rarity in some parts of Dublin. Most of these happen in feuds between rival gangs.
Mr McCaffrey has specialised in reporting on gang activity for the Sunday World, a colourful tabloid known for its edgy journalism. He is the author of the book Cocaine Wars. Some years ago former Sunday World journalist Paul Williams was given police protection after a bomb was placed under his car.
The individual believed to have threatened Mr McCaffrey is suspected of involvement in many offences, including sexual assault and murder.
One of his relatives was sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder, while another is already serving a life sentence for another killing.
Ten years ago another Sunday World journalist, Martin O’Hagan, was murdered in Northern Ireland. He was targeted by loyalist gunmen after writing articles that angered extreme Protestant paramilitary groups.