The Border foxes: why no arrests in the killing of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe?

It is a year since Det Garda Adrian Donohoe was shot dead during the robbery of Lordship Credit Union, in Co Louth, and the investigation continues north and south of the Border. But why no arrests?

Sea of blue: Adrian Donohoe’s funeral drew more than 3,500 fellow officers, about 2,500 of whom were in uniform. Photographs: Ciara Wilkinson, Arthur Carron/Collins and Dara Mac Dónaill. Montage: Dearbhla Kelly

Sea of blue: Adrian Donohoe’s funeral drew more than 3,500 fellow officers, about 2,500 of whom were in uniform. Photographs: Ciara Wilkinson, Arthur Carron/Collins and Dara Mac Dónaill. Montage: Dearbhla Kelly

Sat, Jan 25, 2014, 01:00

He was shot in the head as soon as he stepped from his vehicle. Det Garda Adrian Donohoe and his partner, Det Garda Joe Ryan, both based at Dundalk Garda station, had arrived at Lordship Credit Union at Bellurgan, Co Louth, on the night of January 25th, 2013, a year ago today. They were there to provide an armed escort for staff bringing money to a night safe in Dundalk.

After they drove into the car park, at about 9.30pm, in an unmarked silver Ford Mondeo, a navy-blue VW Passat pulled across its entrance, blocking them in. Det Garda Donohoe, armed with a Sig Sauer pistol, got out of his car, intending to approach the other vehicle.

The killer was one of three or four men who had been hiding behind a wall six or seven metres away and ran towards their victim. The gun fired as they moved.

The gang roared at Joe Ryan to stay back or they would shoot him too. They used a hammer to break the window of a car owned by one of the credit-union staff, and grabbed a bag of money containing just over €4,000. They missed another bag that contained about €30,000. They took the keys from the unmarked Mondeo and sped from the scene in their stolen car.

As the Garda and PSNI swarmed both sides of the Border, the killers escaped back into south Armagh, the area known during the Troubles as “bandit country” because of the IRA’s strength there. Their getaway vehicle was later found, burned out, on a remote roadway in the wooded area of Cumsons Road, Newtownhamilton, between the villages of Darley and Keady.

The emergency services that arrived on the scene of the shooting in Lordship tried desperately to save Adrian Donohoe but were unable to do so. He was 41.

Adrian Donohoe died across the road from Bellurgan school, which his children, eight-year-old Amy and nine-year-old Niall, attend; their family home is a couple of kilometres up the road. Dundalk Garda station is seven kilometres away.

The children’s mother and Adrian’s widow, Caroline Donohoe, is also a member of the Garda, based at the same Dundalk station at which her husband had spent his career. Caroline, who is from Co Clare, said that they clicked from the moment they met, on their first day as fresh-faced recruits at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary, in 1994. From Kilnaleck in Co Cavan, Adrian married Caroline in Kilkee, Co Clare, and they settled on the Cooley peninsula.

They were not from the community they policed, but they quickly became pillars of it. A former under-21 Cavan footballer, Adrian threw himself into coaching St Patrick’s GFC – the Pats – in Lordship parish.

“There’s nothing Adrian wouldn’t have done for us. Sure he was just the best in the whole world,” she said at the People of the Year Awards last September, when her husband was honoured posthumously. “Adrian was the best father any child could ever have. There was nobody like Adrian, and Adrian was the love of my life, and I will miss him every minute of every day as long as I live.”

When they gathered to bury Adrian Donohoe the crowds spilled into the freezing rain in the car park of St Joseph’s Redemptorist Church in Dundalk, and for some distance down the street. There was a heavy political presence and extensive media coverage.

Mourners marvelled at the sea of navy blue created by the biggest gathering, in living memory, of uniformed gardaí. Estimates put the number of officers at more than 3,500, with about 2,500 of them in uniform. Twelve months later that same force has yet to make an arrest.

The men gardaí say are the five suspects are from Crossmaglen in south Armagh. They have gone to the PSNI in the North and made statements through solicitors, denying any involvement in the crime, a common practice there by people expecting a knock on the door.

Since then, four suspects have left Northern Ireland; three are still away and at least two are believed to be in the US. They have been monitored by US authorities, which made an offer to the Irish authorities to stop the men entering the United States. It was not accepted because the investigating team was not ready for arrests. Gardaí have travelled to the US and invited the men to make statements there, to no avail.

The investigation began with the exhaustive job of gathering CCTV footage from all over north Louth and south Armagh. The scene of the killing was examined forensically for almost a week. Mobile-phone records were analysed. A panel-beater’s hammer found at the scene yielded a DNA profile.

The blue VW Passat that the gang used was discovered to have been stolen during a burglary at a family home in Clogherhead, Co Louth, in the week of the murder.

In the early stages the investigative team numbered between 100 and 150; there is no longer enough work on the case to keep that many people busy.

Experienced gardaí say the cross-Border nature of Det Garda Donohoe’s murder complicates the investigation. “If they were a gang from a part of Dublin, or Limerick, or wherever, you immediately have access to all of the intelligence built up on them over the years. They know if one of them has recently fallen out with a girlfriend and it’s all off, or if someone they owe money to is pissed off they can’t get paid.

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