Irish gangland: How business got personal

How have old-school criminals Christy Kinahan and Gerry Hutch found themselves embroiled in one of the biggest recent crime stories?

The gangland feud that has erupted in Dublin in recent days has a complex history involving the Hutch and Kinahan gang. Pictures: Collins

 

They were huddled together against the cold on Tuesday morning the way they always are: a group of drug users outside a methadone clinic in Dublin’s north inner city, swapping stories about the night before.

The body of Eddie Hutch still lay in the hallway of his home, up the street. The 59-year-old taxi driver and father of five had been shot dead a little more than 12 hours earlier.

He is believed to have been killed by the same men who have overseen the trafficking of hard drugs from all corners of the world into the hands of the group with the gaunt faces and yellow complexions now gathered on Amiens Street. The drug users have seen the Garda crime-scene tape before. Everyone who lives around here has.

But this time was different: Eddie Hutch was no ordinary murder victim. He was the brother of Gerry Hutch, the 52-year-old suspected armed robber known as the Monk. And he was allegedly shot by members of the drug cartel led, from Spain, by Christy Kinahan.

Even in the world of Irish drug crime, where the body count inexorably mounts and only the pace of the killing varies, this was a huge event. These were well-known names at war.

Gardaí were out in numbers, and the clinic users were not hanging around today. They took long pulls from cigarettes and traded little parcels between fists clenched to cover their contents from the eyes of office-bound workers.

“Remember, Marko, keep the head down – I’d keep it well down for a good while with all this s**t, man,” one shouted to a friend, gesturing up the road towards the crime scene.

“I bleedin’ will – abso-f***ing-lutely.”

Boxing event

In the past week in Dublin, crime figures who usually keep their heads down have been drawn into the glare of publicity. It began with a paramilitary-style attack at a boxing weigh-in at a crowded Dublin hotel, carried out by men dressed in mock Swat-style Garda uniforms and brandishing AK-47s.

That was followed by the shooting dead of Eddie Hutch, a soft target, after which Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald unveiled a new armed Garda unit for Dublin – or at least plans for one – along with an extra €5 million for policing.

Just as things appeared to be settling, at the end of the week it emerged that the lives of two journalists were under threat from one of the feuding gangs. Statements invoking the memory of Veronica Guerin filled the headlines, alongside condemnation from all sides of the political spectrum, led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Crime moved to the centre of the general-election debate. The Renua Ireland leader, Lucinda Creighton, suggested that the situation had become a national emergency and asked Government parties to stop campaigning and instead focus on formulating a policing response to the crime wave.

The Garda withdrew its emergency-response unit from the Border and deployed it in Dublin. It is also putting in place a security operation around the funerals of Eddie Hutch and the 33-year-old man who was killed in the attack at the Regency Hotel, in Drumcondra in north Dublin, David Byrne, from Raleigh Square in Crumlin.

Old-school criminals

Gerry Hutch and Christy Kinahan, who are both now in middle age, come from an old-school generation of criminal, one that puts for-profit crime ahead of the gun feuds that tend to be the preserve of a younger generation. So how have they found themselves at the centre of a crime story that has blown the general election off the front pages?

Kinahan, from St Teresa’s Gardens in Dublin’s south inner city, is now the leading figure in the Irish drug trade. The 57-year-old was released from Portlaoise Prison after a lengthy sentence for drugs and fraud in 2001. He relocated to southern Spain a short time later.

Since then he has grown a type of criminal network not seen before in Ireland. In his early years in Spain he worked diligently at his craft and, like many of his generation, tried to stay below the radar of both the police and the media.

He was not inclined to become involved in gangland feuds or high-profile violence that might threaten his safety or his wholesale drug business.

Kinahan gathered around him in Spain a group of like-minded men from his native city. Most of them are now in their 50s too.

Garda sources say that Kinahan was regarded as trustworthy, reliable and safe to deal with by other criminals based in Spain and farther afield. Through these international figures he sourced large quantities of drugs for supply to the Irish market.

Supply chain

Kinahan created a number of food companies in Ireland and the UK under the guise of exporting foodstuffs from Spain to Ireland and Britain. Once he had tested his supply chain, and was satisfied that it worked, drugs were packed into the shipments.

In 2008 a consignment of cannabis was found in a container going through Dublin Port. Put under surveillance, the consignment led the Garda to a small warehouse in Clongorey, Co Kildare.

When it was unloaded and a suspect arrived to begin breaking it into segments for distribution around the country, gardaí moved in, made four arrests and seized the drugs. The haul would have been worth more than €10 million on the streets.

Gardaí had rumbled Kinahan’s drug route, or one of them, and could study the origins, transportation method and commercial premises in Kildare. Further investigative work identified an almost identical operation in the UK, mainly based in the London area. That work fed into Operation Shovel, an investigation across Europe, and as far away as Brazil and South Africa, into Kinahan’s network. Among the discoveries was a property portfolio valued in the hundreds of millions.

Kinahan and a number of associates were arrested in Marbella in 2010. When they were freed without charge, shortly afterwards, Kinahan seemed to have emerged untouched from the investigation. But the trouble of the past week can be traced to those raids against him in February 2008.

Empire in Spain

While Kinahan was busy building his empire in Spain, Gerry Hutch was tidying up the last of his affairs with the Garda and looking forward to a quiet, early retirement from crime, during which he would tend mainly to his property interests.

Gerry Hutch was regarded as the main mover behind the robbery of £1.7 million from a Securicor van in Marino Mart, in north Dublin, in 1987. He is also the prime suspect for the Brinks Allied depot robbery in Clonshaugh, also in north Dublin, in which £3 million was stolen in 1995. Hutch has denied involvement in both crimes.

Kinahan’s release from prison in 2001 coincided with a sharp rise in demand for drugs in Ireland, along with rising disposable incomes during the Celtic Tiger years. With money to be made, and with the Provisional IRA no longer acting as a bulwark against drug gangs, especially in Dublin and Limerick, a new generation of young criminals emerged.

They jumped into high-end drug dealing from an early age, many while still in their teens. By comparison, men of Hutch and Kinahan’s age had progressed from people who committed minor crimes into more level-headed, calculating criminals.

Serious feuding occurred in Dublin and Limerick. In a number of those disputes the body count went higher than 15.

Throughout all of the drug deals and gangland murders of those years Gerry Hutch’s name never came up.

Hutch settled with the Criminal Assets Bureau and bought a house in the middle-class suburb of Clontarf, where he raised his now-adult children.

He established the now-dissolved Carry Anybody taxi and limousine company and kept his head down.

But while Hutch appeared to be living a quiet life, his one-time friend Christy Kinahan was living large on the costas of southern Spain. Almost every dealer in Ireland was selling drugs that had passed through Kinahan’s wholesale business in Marbella, and the separated father of three, from a respectable if poor family in Dublin, was lining his pockets.

The events of 2008 were a turning point for that business and for members of Gerry Hutch’s extended family, who came from the north inner city.

“The problem for Kinahan, if you could call it that I suppose, was that his business grew and grew,” says the former detective inspector Brian Sherry.

Sherry investigated organised crime gangs in west and north Dublin during a career at Coolock and Blanchardstown stations that ended only six years ago.

Sherry says that Kinahan surrounded himself with like-minded criminals who always recognised that the purpose of organised crime was to make money rather than shoot and kill their rivals.

But there was a new generation back home, and the bigger Kinahan’s crime business got the more he found himself interacting with a different kind of criminal.

“You can be hands on when you are smaller, but the bigger you get the more people you need working for you, and the less you can control every single person,” says Sherry. “So as some of these guys would say themselves, he started attracting ‘the assholes’ from home.”

These were young, inexperienced men from the underprivileged suburbs of Dublin, who wanted to live the high life but didn’t think strategically. They saw little value in the slow, quiet way Kinahan did business and instead “would go into a situation with all guns blazing, literally in some cases”.

“People have to understand that when these guys go to the Continent they are entering a completely different world,” Sherry says. “They are dealing with Mafia organisations that would just eat them alive.

“Look at the Westies, Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg. They went to Spain as Kinahan was getting bigger, and they thought they could go there and just take a piece of the game like they did at home. Well, they couldn’t.”

In 2004, weeks after arriving in Spain on the run from the Garda and other Dublin criminals, Coates, who was 31, and Sugg, who was 27, were abducted, shot in the head and buried in concrete under a warehouse. Their bodies were not found for almost three years.

Not long after their demise, among the wave of other young Irish drug dealers to leave for Spain were the Dubliners Paddy Doyle and Gary Hutch, Gerry Hutch’s nephew.

Kinahan’s business model of not drawing attention to himself was about to change – fast. “Normally Kinahan wouldn’t have dealt with the likes of Hutch and Doyle,” says one source who has investigated the Kinahan gang. “But when you are supplying so many people back home and you have a large group working for you, and travelling back between Dublin and Spain for you, they are going to become friendly with some of the lower end. And sooner or later some of those people are going to arrive on your doorstep.”

Like Sugg and Coates, Doyle was a hard man in Dublin but did not last long on the costas. He was a suspect for at least three gun murders, committed within 24 hours, back in Dublin in 2005 as part of the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud. He arrived in Spain in early 2006, like Sugg and Coates, on the run from the Garda and gangland rivals.

Within two years he was dead. The 27-year-old from Portland Place in north-inner city Dublin was killed when gunmen opened fire on the BMW four-by-four he was travelling in near Marbella in February 2008.

His friend Gary Hutch, also from the north inner city, was driving the car but survived.

Gardaí quickly established that Doyle had been killed for crossing members of the Kinahan gang, a theory that Spanish police also settled on, although the murder remains unsolved.

It was the first time the Kinahan gang had been linked to a gun murder. They had become drawn into the kind of violence that was now playing out on the streets back home.

It was bad for business for Kinahan to bring on himself the attention from the authorities that comes with a gang murder, but he had to be seen to be in control of men such as Doyle.

In killing him, a gunman feared even by major figures back in Ireland, Kinahan fortified his position at the top of the criminal tree.

Other murders of his one-time associates would follow, as it became even messier to run the biggest network that Irish crime had seen, and to collect the debts and enforce the gun law that went with it.

Gary Hutch – armed robber, drug dealer and nephew of Gerry Hutch – would remain in Spain after his friend’s murder.

But when Gary Hutch was fingered by the Kinahan gang as an informer, four years ago, the Spanish group faced a difficult situation.

Kinahan not only knew Hutch snr well; he also knew that he was well connected in Ireland and that he would still have the backing of his former friends in the Provisional IRA, with whom he had worked on major armed robberies.

Kinahan could not just strike out and murder young Hutch: he needed to be strategic and open negotiations with Gerry Hutch. This, apparently, was done, and a deal was agreed whereby Gary Hutch would extricate himself from drug dealing and stay clear both of the police and of Kinahan’s gang.

But somewhere along the line the deal turned sour, and last September Gary Hutch, who was 34, was shot dead in southern Spain by the Kinahan gang after an earlier botched attempt on his life in August 2014. By that time, according to some security sources, the Kinahan gang had tried to extort money from Gary Hutch’s family in Dublin in return for sparing his life.

It also appears that an attempt was made to shoot Gerry Hutch in Lanzarote earlier this year, when two gunmen walked into the pub he was drinking in just after he had left.

Gary Hutch’s murder drew some members of the Hutch family and their large group of associates in Dublin into conflict with the Kinahan gang.

And when David Byrne, a Kinahan gang member, was shot dead at the Regency Hotel eight days ago, Gary Hutch’s associates were the only real suspects.

Dissidents

The possibility they were helped in some way by the Continuity IRA has not been completely discounted, despite conflicting statements last week by two entities claiming to speak for the dissident organisation.

And when Eddie Hutch was shot at his home on Poplar Row, in Dublin’s north inner city on Monday night, the Kinahan gang were nominated as suspects.

One officer, now retired from the Garda but with 30 years’ experience of monitoring subversives and organised crime gangs, believes the key gang members are not being watched closely enough.

“We used to physically have our eyeballs on them,” he says. “We knew where they went for a pint, who they were with, where their kids even went to school and who did the school runs.

“And when one of them went missing, even if they broke the routine for a few hours, there would be panic looking for them, and you’d send out an all-station alert reporting them missing and instructing that they were to be found.

“We were watching up to 300 subversives at any one time, so don’t tell me the 30 or 40 people at the head of organised crime now can’t be sat on. That’s not happening now, and that needs to be addressed absolutely immediately. They are all too comfortable now.”

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