Macarthur case embroiled senior figures in Irish life Crime Correspondent


BACKGROUND:If his profile were not so high, Macarthur would probably have been released long ago, writes CONOR LALLY

BORN ON April 17th, 1945, Malcolm Macarthur hails from a wealthy farming family of Scottish extraction that settled at Breemount, a 180-acre estate near Trim in Co Meath. Educated by the Christian Brothers, he later studied in a number of colleges in the US before finally graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1967.

He then returned to Ireland, and in 1974, when his father died and the family farm was sold, came into an inheritance of £70,000. A well-known figure on Dublin’s social scene, he was regarded as an intellectual and eccentric.

In May 1982, Macarthur took his partner, Brenda Little, and son, seven-year-old Colm Malcolm, on a holiday to the Canaries. After six weeks his inheritance money ran out. He left for Ireland alone, giving Little the impression he would return.

He arrived in Dublin on July 8th. A fortnight later, on July 22nd, Macarthur attacked a young nurse in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Using a lump hammer, he bludgeoned 27-year-old Bridie Gargan to death while she was sunbathing.

Three days later he went to Edenderry, Co Offaly, to meet farmer Donal Dunne, who had advertised a shotgun for sale in a classified advert. On inspecting the gun, Macarthur turned the weapon on the farmer and shot him dead before robbing his car and driving back to Dublin.

At the time he was staying at an apartment in Pilot View, Dalkey, which was owned by the then attorney general Patrick Connolly SC. Macarthur was a friend of Connolly’s, having met him on Dublin’s social scene during the 1970s.

When the Garda finally tracked him down and arrested him at that apartment, the relationship between Macarthur – by now a double killer – and the government’s chief legal adviser created a storm of scandal.

Macarthur told gardaí he had killed Gargan while trying to rob her car. Mentally unsound, he said he needed the car to rob a bank so he could address his financial problems. He panicked and abandoned the car, but finally sourced a vehicle after shooting Donal Dunne.

At the time of Macarthur’s arrest, Patrick Connolly was preparing to holiday in the US.

He didn’t let the bizarre events interfere with his plans and continued on his way. The then taoiseach Charles Haughey finally summoned him home from New York and Connolly tendered his resignation in Dublin. Haughey famously described the events as “grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre and unbelievable”. Conor Cruise O’Brien coined the term “gubu” from Haughey’s words.

In January 1983, Macarthur was jailed for life.

As a lifer, he could be held indefinitely until the minister for justice of the day sanctioned his release.

Until this week, no minister has decided to face the adverse publicity that releasing him would bring about. If his profile were not so high, Macarthur would probably have been released long ago, unnoticed, like most criminals.

In 2003 he was transferred from Mountjoy Prison to Shelton Abbey, an open prison in Co Wicklow. That transfer was intended to assess Macarthur’s suitability for release, after the Parole Board recommended he be freed.

Said to have become institutionalised from his time in prison, Macarthur had been granted temporary release each Christmas Day for the past number of years. On such release, he typically spent his few hours of freedom with family in Dún Laoghaire in south Co Dublin.