Thomas "Bomber" Kavanagh was the Kinahan gang's "main man in the UK" the National Crime Agency (NCA) said in the wake of his sentencing on Monday.
His journey to that position, and to a 21-year sentence for running a massive drug smuggling operation, began in Dublin in the 1980s when he became associated with the gang’s one-time leader, Christy Kinahan snr.
A life of serious offending followed. He received his first conviction in 1985 before being jailed for seven years in 1990 for possession of a firearm.
Other convictions followed, including for assault, threats to kill, burglary and public order offences.
As well as being close to Christy Kinahan, Kavanagh also worked with Kinahan lieutenant Liam Byrne who was also his brother-in-law. In the late 1990s Kavanagh found himself the target of the newly formed Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab). He received a bill for £106,000 in unpaid tax and Cab went on to seize his house in Knocknarea Avenue, Drimnagh, Dublin 12.
In October 2000 a group of people, including Kavanagh, assaulted a man outside the Four Courts who had just given evidence against Byrne. About the same time, Kavanagh threatened to kill a detective who was investigating drug dealing in the Crumlin and Drimnagh areas.
When Christy Kinahan eventually left Ireland for the United Kingdom, he settled in Tamworth, outside Birmingham. Kavanagh soon followed, leaving the Irish branch of the gang to be run first by Freddie Thompson and then by Byrne.
After his home was seized by Cab in 2019 Byrne also relocated to Birmingham.
On establishing himself in the UK, Kavanagh established his own organised crime business which focused on cannabis and cocaine smuggling on a massive scale.
He relied on a network of Irish criminals who had relocated to the UK to escape the notice of gardaí. Kavanagh set up a luxury car dealership to act as a front and to launder money.
This dealership was also used to “loan” expensive cars to Kavanagh’s criminal associates. Since these cars were technically on loan from the dealership, police in Ireland and the UK were unable to seize them.
Kavanagh’s operation in the UK is best described as a Kinahan franchise, rather than a direct subsidiary. He worked closely with the gang’s Dubai-based leadership but also had his own operations.
For most of his time in Birmingham he avoided serious charges, aside from one occasion when he was fined £83,000 for tax offences.
That changed in 2019 when, following a police raid on his fortified mansion home, the father of six was jailed for three years for possession of a 10,000-volt stun gun and various other weapons. The jail term allowed the authorities to keep Kavanagh out of the way as gardaí and the NCA investigated a massive drug and weapons smuggling operation involving Kavanagh’s associates in several countries.
Kavanagh served only about half that sentence but was kept in custody pending much more serious charges relating to the €36 million a year drug smuggling operation.
This is what led to the 54-year-old receiving a sentence of 21 years on Monday. He will serve about half of it in prison before being released on licence. Whatever assets he has left are likely to be seized by the UK authorities.