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Bray Boxing Club murder: When ‘the wrong person’ is shot

Bobby Messett was not the target. Another assassination ends in the death of an unintended victim

Bray Boxing Club murder: gardaí at Pete Taylor’s sports club, where Bobby Messett was shot. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Larry Dunne, the man most widely associated with introducing heroin to Ireland, was being led away to begin a lengthy jail sentence in 1983 when he turned to gardaí and said: “If you think we were bad, wait till you see what’s coming next.”

What was coming next is what happened in Bray on Tuesday. Even by the standards of modern Irish crime it was a savage attack. The apparent target, the boxing coach Pete Taylor, was hit in the arm and chest. The gunman also shot Bobby Messett in the face, killing him instantly, and hit Ian Britton in the leg, leaving him with serious injuries.

Messett, a sports-loving grandfather who was fitting in some exercise before starting his day’s work, was “in the wrong place, at the wrong time”. He joins the long list of unintentional victims of Irish shootings.

Things changed with the Celtic Tiger. The new recruits were a dangerous mix of cold-hearted killers, bungling criminals and hopeless drug addicts

Gardaí say it wasn’t always like this. Some of the criminals of the 1980s and 1990s were brutal killers, but they usually killed only those they intended to kill. Things changed with the Celtic Tiger, however, and its influx of drugs, which made the lucrative drug trade an attractive option for young criminals. According to gardaí, these new recruits were a dangerous mix of cold-hearted killers, bungling criminals and hopeless drug addicts.


“Without a shadow of a doubt the rules changed in the early 2000s,” says Brian Sherry, a retired detective inspector who worked on gangland crime. The new breed “had no respect for life. When I left, in 2007, that was clear. It’s something that’s developed because of the drugs and money.”

Gardaí, both serving and retired, refer to a moral shift. Suddenly it became acceptable to target an unconnected person or to hit a bystander.


One reason why people with no direct connection to crime are murdered is incompetence. It is hard to accurately fire a handgun in a crowded location without any training. The all-too-frequent result is that the wrong person gets hit.

This appears to be what happened in Bray. Several factors point to an amateur operation, not least that the gunman drove himself to the scene and launched the attack in a room containing between 15 and 20 people.

Gardaí believe Pete Taylor was targeted over a dispute with drug dealers. One theory is that a local dealer felt Taylor had disrespected him, so ordered a gun attack in revenge. But there is nothing to suggest Taylor has any connection to criminality.

During the attack Messett was the first to be shot, followed by Britton and Taylor. The gunman then fled to his car before driving around Co Wicklow and Dublin during rush hour, looking for a place to dump the vehicle.

After he finally settled on Pigeon House Road, at the mouth of the Liffey, he took a bicycle from the boot and cycled off. As he didn’t set the vehicle on fire he left the Garda with a potential wealth of DNA and forensic evidence. An arrest is likely not far off, sources say. Gardaí are also confident that Taylor, who is recovering well in hospital, will be able to give them a list of likely suspects.

Panic and an unfamiliarity with weapons are key factors in such incidents, Ian O’Donnell, professor of criminology at University College Dublin, says. “You see this from time to time: a gun jams, there’s a near miss. It shows the criminals using these guns aren’t trained; they don’t understand how the weapon works.”

This is made worse by the fact that many gunman are drug addicts, hired cheaply, and dispensable if they are caught. Others take the job, or are forced to take the job, to pay off a drug debt.

“It’s difficult to kill somebody,” O’Donnell says. “For someone to be able to get themselves into that state of mind, especially if they’re under threat, they’ll take drink or drugs. And that will put them in a place where they are less likely to hit the right target.”

At the height of the Hutch-Kinahan feud in 2016, the Kinahans were offering €10,000 to anyone willing to assassinate a member of the Hutch family. Those who signed up were given a handgun and sent on their way.

“They are generally half off their trolley before they go in,” Brian Sherry, the former detective inspector, says. “In 2005 we had a murder of a man in Blanchardstown. We had it on CCTV. You can see the gunman going in and the target running. The gunman is in a crowded pub, and he’s holding the gun sideways firing at the other man. Because he saw it in some video game or action film.

Shooting victims: Trevor O’Neill, Donna Cleary and Anthony Campbell

“Drug addict or drug addled”

According to Liz Campbell, professor of criminal law at Durham University, there’s no “neat answer” to the question of why bystanders are caught up in killings, but drugs are a factor. “If someone who is a drug addict or drug addled is involved then you’re probably going to see incompetence or someone acting so irrationally that they don’t know what they’re doing.”

There are cases of gunmen firing indiscriminately and killing or wounding anyone unlucky enough to be hit. This was the case in the death of Donna Cleary, in Clondalkin in 2006, when a man fired several shots through the window of a house where a party was being held.

Mistaken identity is another factor in such deaths. “Most people who are involved in violence are known to each other. They’re intimates,” O’Donnell says. “But one thing that has emerged over the years is the number of ‘stranger homicides’, where the parties aren’t known to each other and one of the parties has been paid to kill someone. So mistaken identity is becoming more likely in such cases.”

Gangs will also occasionally swap jobs, with one group carrying out a killing for a friendly gang, to reduce the risk of its being traced back to the person who ordered the hit. This also means the killer is unlikely to know what his target looks like.

Both sides of the Hutch-Kinahan feud have used outside hit men to go after high-value targets, resulting in the wrong people being shot.

On April 14th, 2017, Martin O’Rourke was on Sheriff Street, in the middle of Dublin, when an armed man cycled towards him. The gunman was after Keith Murtagh, an associate of Gerry Hutch. O’Rourke started to run, and the gunman opened fire, hitting the 24-year-old in the back and killing him. Murtagh escaped by hiding behind some cars. Gardaí believe O’Rourke was hit because he was wearing the same colour top as Murtagh.

Shane Geoghegan was murdered in Limerick, in 2008, as part of a gang feud. The 28-year-old bore a resemblance to one of his neighbours, who was the intended target

Three months later the Kinahans targeted Jonathan Hutch, a nephew of Gerry “the Monk” Hutch. The Kinahans had been trying to get to Jonathan, who was not involved with the criminal organisation, for some months. When he went on a family holiday to Majorca the Kinahans hired a professional hit man to kill him.

While on holiday the Hutch family had met Trevor O’Neill and his family. O’Neill bore a slight resemblance to Jonathan Hutch. When the gunman fled the scene of the murder it was O’Neill who lay dead.

Perhaps one of the best-known cases of mistaken identity was the murder of Shane Geoghegan in Limerick in 2008, as part of the feud between the McCarthy-Dundon and Keane-Callopy gangs. The 28-year-old bore a resemblance to one of his neighbours, who was the intended target.

The murderer, Barry Doyle, was brought from Dublin to carry out the shooting. He had never seen his target before, and shot Geoghegan as he was walking towards his house.

The Geoghegan murder had serious consequences for the gangs involved. His death shocked the nation, and the resulting Garda crackdown meant that within a few years the feud was all but finished.

In other cases indiscriminate murder can benefit the perpetrators – in a warped way. Whether or not the right person is hit, such attacks terrorise the community and alienate rivals from that community. They can also destroy rivals’ legitimate business interests, as seen after the Hutch attack on the Regency Hotel, in north Dublin, in 2016.

In that incident the Hutch gang wanted to kill Daniel Kinahan, the son of the gang boss Christy Kinahan. Daniel had helped establish a thriving boxing-management company called MTK Global. When two gunmen burst into the Regency with AK-47s, and wearing fake Garda uniforms, a weigh-in was taking place for MTK fighters ahead of a series of bouts the following night. Daniel Kinahan escaped, so the gunmen settled on a target of opportunity, David Byrne.

Shooting victims: Shane Geoghegan, Eddie Hutch and Bobby Messett

Although Daniel Kinahan escaped uninjured, his rise in the boxing world was halted. Venues refused to host MTK fighters, citing security concerns. In 2017 the company announced a new management team in an effort to disassociate itself from the violence.

The Hutch gang “knew exactly what they were doing in targeting the weigh-in. They wanted to kill Kinahan, and if they couldn’t get him they wanted to ruin his business,” one detective said in the aftermath.

Indiscriminate violence can cause friends and family members to withdraw, out of fear of being caught in the crossfire.

Stephen Breen and Owen Conlon write in their book The Cartel that the Hutch- Kinahan feud resulted in 107 family and friends on both sides receiving Garda alerts that their lives were in danger.

One Hutch family member had to cancel their wedding because of security concerns; another couldn’t even get a furniture removal van to come to his home to transport a bed. Garda protection had to be given to carers providing home help to a disabled member of the family, and armed officers patrolled outside a care home where another disabled relative was staying.

The terrorism of family and friends is not always the intended consequence of indiscriminate violence, but “it’s what happens nonetheless”, Liz Campbell says.

According to Sherry, “it terrorises the whole community. No one is safe. Distant relatives, anyone married into the family, none of them are safe.”

Soft targets

Before the Hutch-Kinahan feud was even a year old the Kinahans had few easy targets. The key players were dead, arrested or in hiding. So the gang began to target people only slightly associated with their rivals, even if those people had little or nothing to do with organised crime.

In February 2016 Gerry Hutch’s older brother, Eddie, was murdered by the Kinahans. He had had run-ins with the law in the past but had little to do with the family operation. The Kinahans saw him as a soft target; his death would have little effect on the Hutch operation but would enrage and further isolate the family.

There was a similar logic to the murder of Noel “Kingsize” Duggan the following month. Duggan was a convicted cigarette smuggler, but he had little to do with the Hutch operation and nothing to do with the Regency attack.

The whole idea is if you start killing them you'll draw the others out, to the funerals, or you'll make them come looking for revenge, and you'll be expecting them

“They weren’t angels, but they were far removed from the actual scene,” Sherry says. “But the other side doesn’t care. The whole idea is if you start killing them you’ll draw the others out. That’s their whole process. You’ll either draw them out to the funerals or you’ll make them come looking for revenge, and you’ll be expecting them.”

If some of the victims caught in the crossfire of recent killings have died as a result of incompetence, and others because of the killers’ desire to inflict terror on their rivals, some have died because they could have been witnesses in a murder trial. In 2006 Anthony Campbell, a 20-year-old apprentice plumber, was shot dead because he may have seen the murderer of Marlo Hyland escape from the scene.

Looking through this list of victims, one thing is clear. Very few of these murderers, including Campbell’s, are caught.

Despite some recent Garda successes, particularly in stopping murders before they happen, gangland killings remain very difficult to solve.

“Resources and checkpoints are great, but if you haven’t got the evidence you haven’t got it. The way these murders are done, by bringing in outside people . . . the fact is you’re not going to solve them unless someone confesses,” one recently retired garda says.

Just 14 of the 127 gangland killings between 1998 and 2007 resulted in a conviction, a rate of 11 per cent.