Spanish trial of John Gilligan for drug and gun charges suspended

Gilligan (70), who is alleged to be the leader of a drugs sales business based in southern Spain, and his girlfriend Sharon Oliver made an application to have their passports returned so they could travel to England

Convicted drug dealer John Gilligan has had his Spanish trial on drug and gun charges suspended after his son Darren did not appear in court.

John Gilligan (70) is alleged to be the leader of a drugs sales business, based in southern Spain, which was selling drugs and delivering them to customers via the postal service. The firearm charge relates to a gun that was discovered buried in the garden of a property the Spanish authorities claim they have linked Gilligan to.

His son Darren Gilligan’s absence was confirmed when a court clerk called the defendants into court in the Costa Blanca town of Torrevieja for the public session just before midday on Tuesday.

Court officials will now attempt to track him down before he is declared as being in contempt of court if they fail to locate him so he can be tried in his absence.


Judge Jorge Martinez will now consider whether to let Gilligan and his girlfriend have their passports back so they can travel to England.

The couple’s lawyer made the travel submission after telling the court in open session Sharon Oliver needed to return home urgently for an operation on a hernia and her partner had to take her by car because she didn’t have a driving licence.

The request was not opposed by the state prosecutor, meaning it could be just a question of hours before Gilligan and his girlfriend leave Spain temporarily.

The judge wrapped up the brief public session in the court in the Costa Blanca town of Torrevieja, Spain by saying: “We are going to suspend the trial to April of next year.”

The five lawyers acting for the nine defendants are now expected to continue trying to negotiate a plea bargain deal with state prosecutor Barbara Valero before the rescheduled three-day trial starting on April 17.

They are understood to be open to a deal if the offer on the table is little or no prison time.

Jail terms of two years or less are normally suspended in Spain for first-time offenders.

Three other people are also facing charges alongside Gilligan on what the Spanish authorities claim was their involvement in the gang, allegedly led by the pensioner criminal.

The Spanish authorities allege the group was growing cannabis crops in the Alicante region and then selling them to customers in Ireland and Britain. The drugs, also including tablets used by drug addicts, were being delivered in parcel mail to customers in both countries and the Spanish charges allege Gilligan and his co-accused were behind those drugs sales.

Gilligan was put on trial for the murder of mother-of-one Veronica Guerin in 1996 but was acquitted. However, he was convicted of drugs trafficking at the time and was released from prison in 2013 after 17 years. At the centre of the Spanish case against Gilligan is the theory he had left Ireland for Spain and that he was trying to re-establish himself in the drugs trade there.

Gilligan and five other people were arrested in October 2020 in Alicante as part of a pre-planned operation by the Spanish national police, supported by the Garda and the UK’s National Crime Agency.

During the search operation, armed police stormed a house in which Gilligan was staying. The raid was part of a wider investigation into criminals using the postal service to send “marijuana and hypnotic drugs to the United Kingdom and Ireland”.

Spanish police at the time confirmed the arrest of the six suspects as well as the seizure of 4kg of cannabis and 15,000 pills and a Colt Python revolver, which had been buried in the ground. A further 4kg of cannabis and 11,000 pills were also found packed into parcels at four other properties. After being arrested, Gilligan was freed on bail as the Spanish police investigation continued, with further arrests taking place, including last year.

Gilligan left Dublin for Spain after unsuccessful efforts to raise funds from former criminal associates to restart his life after his release from jail. He also crossed a number of gangland criminals, who tried to kill him.

In early December 2013, when Gilligan had been freed from prison for six weeks, two gunmen walked into the Halfway House Pub in Ashtown, north Dublin. Gardaí believe they were looking for him. Gilligan was less than 1km away in the Hole in the Wall Pub at the time. He was formally issued with a warning by gardaí that his life was in danger. For a period he was driven around by a minder.

A couple of months later, at the end of February 2014, Gilligan was again targeted. This time he was shot and wounded at his brother’s house in Clondalkin. Photos emerged of him in a wheelchair after the attack and he fled to the UK for a period before eventually moving to Spain.

Exactly two weeks after the attack that almost killed Gilligan, Stephen ‘Dougie’ Moran, who had been driving him around in Dublin, was shot dead at his home in Lucan, Co Dublin.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times