A litigious prisoner who became a familiar presence in court

Gilligan represented himself after sacking legal team

Over his 16 years in detention, John Gilligan became a familiar presence in court

Over his 16 years in detention, John Gilligan became a familiar presence in court


John Gilligan has been a litigious prisoner.

Over his 16 years in detention, the convicted drug deal- er became a familiar presence in court, where he challenged his conviction, his sentence, his treatment in prison and attempts to seize his assets.

At times he would represent himself; always, he would be accompanied to court by a cavalcade of squad cars and a phalanx of photographers.

As late as yesterday, with just hours to go to his release, Gilligan was at the centre of two legal actions winding their way through the Four Courts. In the morning, the Supreme Court dismissed his constitutional challenge to the law under which he received consecutive sentences of six and eight months for having mobile phones in prison.

A few hours later, it emerged that Gilligan had initiated a new High Court action to try and stop the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) selling his Jessbrook equestrian centre in Co Meath, which has been on the market for the past month.

Jessbrook, first seized by the courts more than 15 years ago, has been at the centre of a long-running legal battle between the Gilligan family and the Garda Síochána.

The dispute culminated in a ruling in November last year, when the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Gilligan’s wife, Geraldine, and his adult children, Treacy and Darren, who sought to block the disposal of the assets.

That decision cleared the way for the sale of the 3,500- seat equestrian centre, 90 acres, 30 stables and an apartment, as well as a house at Weston Green in Lucan.

Gilligan though does not own these assets, the courts have ruled they were funded or part-funded with the proceeds of crime.

Gilligan was cleared in 2001 of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin in June 1996. He was convicted by the Special Criminal Court in March 2001 of 11 offences of unlawfully importing cannabis resin between July 1st, 1994, and October 6th, 1996, and unlawful possession of cannabis resin for sale or supply on the same dates.

Gilligan was originally sentenced to 28 years in prison for the drugs offences, but this was reduced on appeal to 20 years. He was also convicted in June 2002 of threatening to kill two prison officers in March 2001 and was given a two-year prison sentence to run consecutively after the 20-year sentence.

He was later convicted on further charges relating to the possession of mobile phones.

In January 2010, while defending himself at a preliminary hearing against a charge of possessing a mobile phone and sim card at this cell in Portlaoise prison on July 30th, 2008, Gilligan requested a change of judge after accusing the sitting judge of being prejudiced against him.

Gilligan sacked his lawyers and represented himself in separate proceedings in which he resisted an attempt by CAB to have him and his family pay the costs of the marathon legal battle.

That action came to an end in February 2009, when the Supreme Court ruled against the CAB and in effect decided that the Gilligans, most of whom were on legal aid, would not have to pay the bureau’s costs.

In another action, in August 2012, the High Court dismissed an application by Gilligan directing that the Director of Public Prosecutions charge him with the importation of 104 shipments of illegal drugs. He also sought permission to bring constitutional challenges against the Misuse of Drugs and the Offences Against the State Acts and to be released from prison. Mr Justice Brian McGovern rejected the applications on grounds including that the proceedings amounted to a “collateral attack” on a conviction received 11 years earlier.

During his trial, reference was made to 104 shipments having come to Ireland, Gilli- gan claimed in the High Court. He argued that he was never charged with 104 counts of drugs importation and he wanted to be charged with those offences to vindicate his rights and to allow the truth to definitively emerge.

He claimed the CAB had proceeded on the basis that he had been convicted of 104 counts when applying to take his assets as the proceeds of crime. Mr Justice McGovern called the application “vexatious”.

While in prison, Gilligan also took a number of challenges against orders that his assets and those of his family were the proceeds of crime.

The latest action concluded in December 2011, when Mr Justice Kevin Feeney made an order that a number of properties owned by Gilligan and his family members should be disposed of and transferred to the Minister for Finance under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

He also dismissed an application by Gilligan to have the High Court declare the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 repugnant to the Constitution and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a separate hearing, Mr Justice Feeney said Gilligan’s claims that the money he used to buy a property were not the proceeds of criminal activity were “implausible”, “fabricated” and “incapable of belief”.

“On a purely mathematical basis, a winning streak of 30 consecutive bets is highly improbable,” the judge said in relation to Gilligan’s claim that he made most of his money through successful gambling.