Was wrong man jailed for killing Veronica Guerin?

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The Independent Online

It was a brutal killing that shocked the world, and when Irish police arrested members of a drug gang for the murder of crime reporter Veronica Guerin in 1996, the public sighed with relief. But it has since been suggested that the real killer may have escaped justice.

It was a brutal killing that shocked the world, and when Irish police arrested members of a drug gang for the murder of crime reporter Veronica Guerin in 1996, the public sighed with relief. But it has since been suggested that the real killer may have escaped justice.

The Dublin supergrass who shopped fellow drug gang members over their involvement in the shooting of the journalist has come under suspicion of being the real hitman.

Drug dealer-turned-informant Charles Bowden, who had struck up a deal with the authorities in return for a reduced sentence and partial immunity, is now in the Irish Witness Protection Scheme and serving six years for firearms and drug offences.

Since his arrest in 1997 he has claimed the murder team consisted of getaway driver, Brian Meehan, 36, safe house provider Paul Ward, 35, and hitman Patrick "Dutchy" Holland, 60. His evidence in a series of trials at Dublin Special Criminal Court was key to the jailing of Ward and Meehan for murder, and Meehan and Holland on drugs offences at separate trials.

But analysis of his statements and court evidence has revealed a growing series of flaws and contradictions about key events and his own part in the affair.

In Ward's trial, the 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."

Bowden's wife, Juliet, 30, who ran his hair salon, Clips, in Moore Street, Dublin, has already admitted in court that she lied to protect her husband.

In Brian Meehan's June 1999 trial, the defendant's barrister, John McCrudden, pointed out that there is more hard evidence linking Bowden with the murder than any other member of the alleged hit team.

Bowden had admitted to Irish detectives that he had cleaned, oiled and loaded the .357 Magnum gun with dum dum bullets before the murder, and cleaned it again afterwards. Bowden says he was not present at the time of the murder. He was given immunity from prosecution over his part in the conspiracy in return for giving evidence in court.

Irish Sunday Independent reporter Guerin, 37, was shot dead while stopped at traffic lights at Clondalkin, Dublin, on 26 June 1996. Two men drew up alongside on a motorbike, smashed her car window and fired a series of shots at Ms Guerin, killing her. She had become a legend for her fearless exposure of Dublin's drug gangs, seriously hampering their illegal operations. Her death spawned a series of books and a recent film.

In their investigation of the murder, Gardai detectives focused on a drug gang responsible for large importations of cannabis. They raided a warehouse in Harold's Cross, Dublin. They found 47 kilos of cannabis with a street value of IR£470,000 (£373,000).

A tip from an informant led to the arrest of gang member Charles Bowden. Realising police had strong evidence against him, Bowden turned supergrass. He claimed he had seen members of the hit team before and after the murder.

He says he saw Brian Meehan at 1.30 in the afternoon in the street, just half an hour after Guerin had been shot, and spoke to him later. Bowden says Meehan had told him they had done a "good job", and Holland was the gunman of whom Meehan said, "I thought he [Holland] would put two bullets into her but he emptied the gun into her. Fair play to him."

Bowden and his wife's evidence clash as to where the drug dealer was at the time of the murder. She says he left the hair salon at about 11.30am with a close friend, and returned about 10 minutes after the murder. In his statement to the Gardai, Bowden has said he was alone with his wife at the salon and did not see his friend that day.

Key parts of Bowden's evidence also clash with known facts. Bowden says he left Meehan at the Hole in the Wall pub and returned home alone with his wife. But Juliet Bowden said they had "three or four" people back that evening and held a celebration party. Their neighbour has said he saw beer being carried into the house and was kept awake by a raucous party.

Bowden served in the Irish army in the 1980s, where he was a crack shot. He became the "armourer" of the Dublin drugs gang and controlled the weapons store which was hidden in a Jewish cemetery.

Paul Ward's case is coming up for appeal in November. Patrick Holland, who was convicted in 1997 and is serving 12 years in Portaloise prison, also says he is to launch an appeal.

The trial of the man accused of being the mastermind behind the Guerin murder begins in Dublin's Special Criminal Court on Tuesday. John Gilligan, 48, is said to be the boss of the Dublin drugs gang that murdered Guerin.

Gilligan will face charges of assault and one of criminal damage, resulting from a visit made by Guerin in 1995 to Gilligan's home to confront him with allegations of drug dealing. He attacked her and she filed charges. In a pre-trial hearing, the court was told by prosecutor Peter Charleton that it was then it was decided that "the late Miss Guerin should be killed".

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