MacLochlainn inquiry told raid ‘madness personified’

Retired Garda says robbery attempt may have been prompted by ‘blue flu day’

A retired detective inspector has described shooting at Real IRA member Rónán Mac Lochlainn after he pointed a handgun at the detective through the window of a hijacked car at the scene of a botched cash-in-transit robbery 17 years ago.

Mac Lochlainn (28), from Ballymun, Dublin, was fatally injured during an attempted armed robbery of a Securicor van at Cullenmore bends in Ashford, Co Wicklow on May 1st 1998.

A commission of investigation into the fatal shooting continued on Monday with evidence from Patrick Hogan who was a detective inspector with the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) at the time.

Mr Hogan described reaching the scene of the attempted robbery where he saw four men in dark clothing and balaclavas. He said one of them, later identified as Mac Lochlainn, used a handgun to hijack a vehicle occupied by an elderly couple . The “raider” got into the car, a green Mazda, on the driver’s side.

“The driver pointed a gun at me, the same gun, a black handgun and I fired three shots at the car, three shots at him,” Mr Hogan told the commission. “The gun was pointed out the driver’s window at me.”

He said he then witnessed a second green car approaching from the north and heard two gun shots.

Mr Hogan said he then saw the hijacked Mazda being struck by a red car.

Mr Hogan said he ran to the door of the hijacked car and that he and another Garda member struggled with the man in the balaclava. He said another gunshot was discharged in the car.

He said he then turned his attention to apprehending the other gang members. Four suspects were arrested at the location of the attempted robbery while a fifth was apprehended a short distance away.

Mr Hogan subsequently confirmed that the red vehicle with which the hijacked Mazda collided was later used to transfer one of the five suspects.

Questioned by the head of the commission of investigation, Mary Rose Gearty, as to why this vehicle was used, Mr Hogan noted the events had occurred on the day of the "blue flu", where large numbers of gardaí called in sick to work in protest over pay and conditions.

“I had no other resources to remove prisoners,” he said.

Earlier another retired Garda member said the initial theory as to the presence of a van in the Wicklow area on May 1st, 1998 was a potential kidnapping.

Retired Garda inspector John Castles of Wicklow Garda station said he received a call from Basil Walsh, the detective superintendent heading the Special Detective Unit, who informed him of the presence of a van in the area.

He said Mr Walsh asked if there were any wealthy people living in the area who might be the target of a kidnapping. Mr Castles said he told Mr Walsh of a number of “possible targets” living in the area.

He described the attempt to rob a Securicor van on that road on a bank holiday weekend when many members of public were on the roads as “madness personified” but said the “the ‘blue flu day’ might have had something to do with it”.

Asked about the presence of two specific vehicles – a red Seat or a black 4x4 vehicle – at the scene Mr Castles said he did not recall them.

The hearing continues.