Former supt John Murphy had reputation as ‘loose’ operator in Garda

Murphy apparently ‘notorious’ for cancelling penalty points and some members believe he pushed boundaries while investigating crime

Former Garda supt John Murphy, jailed on Tuesday for drugs offences, was an old school police officer some members of the force kept away from, though he commanded deep loyalty from those he was closest to, sources who knew him have told The Irish Times.

A number of former colleagues said while they disliked Murphy they were very surprised he was caught with hundreds of thousands of Euros worth of drugs last year and was now being investigated over suspected links to the Hutch crime gang.

The Irish Times understands Murphy was a central figure in the abuse of the penalty points system within the force. When Garda members were taking advantage of their powers to cancel points, he was at the forefront of the practice and instructed more junior Garda members to cancel points at his behest. He was apparently “notorious” for cancelling penalty points and some members of the Garda also believe he pushed the boundaries while investigating crime.

One source described Murphy as adapting determined or “robust” tactics when investigating crime. This could, for example, take the form very doggedly targeting suspects — with arrests and searches — with such regularity would not be accepted in the present day. The same source said Murphy often became close to other Garda members who took the same approach to make life as uncomfortable as possible for suspects.

READ MORE

He probably thought to himself ‘they’ll never search my house’ or that he’d get a tip-off in advance

Murphy worked as a detective inspector in Raheny, north Dublin, as well as Pearse St, north Dublin. After being promoted to superintendent he was posted to Cavan, the traffic bureau in Dublin and the Bridewell in Dublin’s north inner city, which was his last posting.

Several people who were aware of his policing career said there were concerns at the manner he handled informants. However, one believed his working habits were “very, very loose rather than criminal”. At least one believed these concerns were growing around the time he retired, which may have influenced his decision to retire as early as he could.

“New systems were introduced and informants had to be registered and your dealings with them had to be recorded, and John wouldn’t have been someone who could cope with or accept that change,” said one. “He was a guy who wanted to deal with people his own way, didn’t want any checks or balances. There was an arrogance there and a sense of entitlement that he could work the job however he wanted.”

Murphy was briefly a member of the Defence Forces before joining the Garda. His father was a senior officer in the Garda before him and his brother is still serving as a senior Garda officer and is well liked and well respected. Some sources who spoke to The Irish Times believed Murphy was promoted beyond his capabilities.

He retired in May, 2010, aged 50 years and almost immediately he was entitled to a full pension having reached 30 years service. He held a retirement party at the Aviva Stadium, south Dublin, which was attended by a range of well known figures including broadcasters, restaurateurs and musicians.

“He definitely had a taste for the finer things in life and for hanging out with well known people, whether they were journalists or people in the entertainment industry and so on,” said one source of Murphy. “He liked the bright lights and I think when he retired from the job so young he thought he’d somehow step into that world.”

Another said when Murphy worked as a superintendent in the traffic bureau in Dublin part of his role was arranging Garda escorts for the Irish rugby team, adding he enjoyed those more glamorous aspects of the job as they brought him closer to famous people.

His retirement event was covered by some newspapers, with Murphy telling them he had “no plans” for his retirement other than to play golf and enjoy himself in his first months after life on the force. However, according to his senior counsel Michael O’Higgins this week, things already turned sour by the time he retired.

He had already invested some €300,000 in taxi licences; an investment wiped out when the sector was deregulated. The court was told Murphy had been forced to remortgage his home in Clontarf as a result. He also owed €129,000 to friends and family among total debts of €850,000.

Mr O’Higgins told the court that Murphy consumed large quantities of alcohol daily, adding this was known to the people around him. His debts and the fact he was a functioning alcoholic had clouded his judgment, leading to the choices that resulted in his appearance before the court on such serious charges.

A number of former colleagues said they were very surprised when it emerged drugs were found in his house. One described himself as “astounded”, adding while he knew Murphy had a reputation as “a bit more than a chancer and a rogue” he never imagined that would extend to serious criminality. One described himself as “astounded” the drugs were in his home.

“Then again, he probably thought to himself ‘they’ll never search my house’ or that he’d get a tip-off in advance,” he said.

Tip-offs are an area that may yet come back to haunt Murphy and may land him before the courts again. When his home was searched in September of last year the gardaí present on the day were not looking for drugs. Instead, the search was one of five on the day carried out as part of an investigation by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) into alleged leaks of information to the Hutch crime gang.

The Garda said at the time — in a statement that did not name Murphy or the Hutch gang — that 30kg of cannabis herb, provisionally valued at €600,000, was seized during the day’s operation as well as €47,000 in cash. Some 13kg of the drugs, valued at €260,000, was linked to Murphy. It was found in a walk-in wardrobe in his house, in the back of his car and in vacuum-packed bags on a coal bunker at the back of the property.

Murphy was charged in relation to 13kg of the drugs find and did not take up bail, which he was granted. That means he has been in custody since last year’s searches and has one year of his sentence already served. Jailing Murphy for six and half years on Tuesday after his guilty plea, Judge Martin Nolan said he believed the former superintendent was holding the drugs for financial gain and that he knew better than to get involved in the drugs trade.

While the drugs seizure has now been dealt with by the courts, the investigation into alleged leaks to the Hutch gang continues. The NBCI, which is the Garda’s serious crimes squad, is examining allegations that Murphy was supplied information from serving members of the force that he then passed on to the Hutch group, some of whom he would have come into contact with through his policing career.

However, that inquiry is continuing and no findings, either against Murphy or any serving Garda member, have been arrived at. The NBCI investigators have seized phones and other devices and have reviewed access to records on the Garda’s PULSE database to try to determine if information accessed was passed on. However, they have not ruled out the possibility that Murphy may have harvested information from his conversations with still-serving former colleagues who had no idea he was “fishing” for information to pass on to criminal elements.