[Strangeland]Gangster John Gilligan confronted in southern Spain in memory of Veronica Guerin

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  We knew we had to do it for her memory.

  No matter what the age, there is always a sensation of fear when you are about to confront a criminal.

  There is always that worry at the front of your mind that the subject you are going after will turn on you in the most violent of ways.

  That’s what I thought when my colleague Mick O’Neill and I mounted our four day-long surveillance operation that led to us confronting gangster John Gilligan in Torrevieja in southern Spain on Thursday.

  We had been watching the house and had seen some well-built associates coming and going from it.

  Just say when we confronted Gilligan — himself charged with the brutal assault on Ms Guerin shortly before her murder — he turned violent?

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  He’d be OK to deal with as he is nearly 70. But what if he had a squad of heavies with him and we were outnumbered in a strange land with no prospect of being able to call for back-up?

  Our managers had specifically warned us not to put ourselves in any danger. Mick O’Neill already had strong photos of Gilligan from our surveillance op.

  So didn’t have to confront him. But we knew we did, really.


  John Gilligan and son Darren Gilligan arrive to the home in Torrevieja in Spain

  (Image: Mick ONeill Monpics Photography)

  We had to do it for Veronica Guerin. And we had to do it for journalism.

  How could we, as journalists, watch from a distance a man who was charged with assaulting our colleague, who was charged with her callous murder, who threatened to rape her infant son, and do nothing?

  So, despite the risks we did. And we should have known what would happen next.

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  Jimmy Guerin

  Veronica Guerin brother's letter to Taoiseach over killer Brian Meehan's step closer to freedom

  When we caught up with him on Thursday afternoon, he took one look at us, turned tail and scuttled into the luxury villa he calls home, his son Darren urging him to ignore us.

  Although he refused to interact with us, he did hear the questions we put to him: Did he regret the murder of Ms Guerin? Did he have anything to say about her killing, 25 years on?

  But as we drove away from the quiet street where he lives, two thoughts came into my mind.

  One was of the residents of the street where Gilligan is living. It is a clearly opulent area, where most villas have pools and terraces. The homes are gated and some have CCTV systems.

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  I wondered how they felt having Ireland’s most infamous criminal in their midst. I wondered what they felt when they saw the Spanish police’s armed SWAT team raiding the villa last October and dragging him out in cuffs as they arrested him for drugs and firearms offences.

  The other thought was of Mick O’Neill’s surveillance photos he had taken of Gilligan in the previous few days.


  Veronica Guerin

  We caught him from a distance and he had no idea he was being watched, so he was not his usual public self, where he often pulls a funny face or laughs.

  Instead we saw the real John Gilligan and there was something not right about him. He was not some pensioner going about his businesses. There was a hardness in his eyes, as if he was making plans.

  And I knew instinctively the plans he was concocting in his head meant someone was in trouble.

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