The grimy path from children's court to murdering for the money

 

Paul "Hippo" Ward (34) was sent back to the place where it all started yesterday. It was in prison that he first got involved with the man whose drug business made Ward a wealthy criminal anxious to preserve his money.

Two other people now face charges in relation to the murder of Veronica Guerin. Both cases will involve evidence from Charles Bowden, the State's first "supergrass". The prize-winning military marksman, who worked as the gang's armourer, has been given immunity from prosecution for his role in the murder, having admitted he cleaned the murder weapon, loaded it and prepared a spare set of bullets.

Paul Ward had the credentials for joining the gang leader's inner circle. He was born in Crumlin in January 1964, and his first criminal conviction was at the age of 15, when the Children's Court sentenced him to probation for malicious damage.

Twenty-four more convictions followed. He served his first prison sentence aged 19 for receiving stolen property. He later graduated to robbery, and got a four-year sentence in 1986 and another four-year term in 1989.

The following year he was convicted of driving without insurance twice, stealing a car and robbery. He was convicted of common assault in July 1995 and fined £500. By that stage, however, money was not a problem.

Ward did not go to prison for his 25th conviction, driving without tax and insurance. His sixmonth sentence for the offence was reduced to a month in June 1996, just 15 days before Veronica Guerin was murdered. But i did he was not arrested. So, instead of going to Mountjoy, he headed to the Spanish resort of Santa Ponsa with his girlfriend, Vanessa Meehan.

He had lived to regret that week in the sun, he told the Special Criminal Court. Otherwise he would have been in prison when Ms Guerin was murdered.

With no drugs convictions in his long list of charges, Ward left small-time thuggery and thieving in 1994 and moved into the cannabis and cigarette racket.

He was made a trusted employee in the multi-million-pound enterprise as one of "five senior line managers", in the words of Mr Justice Barr, distributing cannabis for the gang leader. He was the bag man, given the job of collecting cash. In this case he was a plastic bag man, carrying the cash in supermarket bags. A briefcase would have drawn too much attention.

Between 1994 and 1996 Ward delivered about £3 million in cash to his boss, earning for himself about £300,000.

It was easy money. His job was to meet clients or their couriers in the car-park of one of two pubs near his new bungalow on Walkinstown Road. He would walk out through the pubs and casually return home carrying as much as £20,000 in one bag.

Ward's profit margin was low, a mark-up of less than 10 per cent on the £2,000 the leader charged his middlemen for a kilo of cannabis. The profits were divided among fellow distributors, including Charles Bowden.

The gang was shifting so much cannabis that the £150 mark-up per kilo was enough to make them wealthy men. Bowden told the court he was making up to £7,000 a week. He bought the Walkinstown house, fitting it with a jacuzzi, and bought his 20-year-old girlfriend, Vanessa, a £10,000 car.

The Criminal Assets Bureau has moved to seize the house. CAB has also frozen a £20,000 investment bond Ward says he bought for his 12-year-old daughter. The rest of the money was spent on the holidays, clothes and supporting his heroin use.

While the five wholesalers sold kilos of cannabis to a list of customers who sold on smaller amounts to about 100 dealers, the man at the top of the pyramid joined the ranks of the super-rich.

Business was booming. Then Veronica Guerin came along. She was a threat to the holidays, the cars, the cocaine parties, the designer clothes, Ward's supermarket bags and the laundry basket where Bowden kept his cash. So they decided to destroy her.

Ward was in the northside apartment of one of the gang members when they discussed how "completely pissed off" the gang leader was that Guerin was going to prosecute him for assault.

It was the routine Friday-night meeting when the men would divide the week's takings. Now they were worried that their boss, the only man who could buy the cannabis abroad, was going to prison and their livelihoods would disappear.

As trusted associates and friends, the gang members worked and played together. Ward sat with the leader and gang members around a pool in the Caribbean resort of St Lucia three months before the Guerin murder when they raised a drink to a video camera and toasted her, laughing. He was in the car with another gang member who asked Bowden if he knew where the Magnum revolver was. And he was with the gang members on a third occasion when they discussed whether or not Ms Guerin would have Garda protection.

Ward's 31-day trial heard harrowing details of her death and the weapon used to execute her. They used "semi-wadcutter" bullets, a ballistics expert told the court. The flat-headed bullet is a marksman's favourite because it leaves a clean, neat hole in target practice.

Watched by Veronica's widower, Graham Turley, and her brother, Jimmy, Bowden was blase in court about the expertise needed to prepare the murder weapon. He didn't need a special tool to clean it, he told Mr Justice Barr. "Just a rag. A clean rag. Just pop the cylinder, load it and pop it back."

The guns had been greased to prevent them rusting before they were buried in a grave at a Jewish graveyard. A quick wipe and they were ready.

While the news of Veronica Guerin's murder was being broadcast to a horrified public, Paul Ward was on a bus with the gun that had fired the six shots. The gun has never been found. The motorcycle was recovered from the Liffey, broken up.

The disposal of evidence was a responsibility Ward didn't want landed on his doorstep. He complained to Bowden that he had not expected to have to do that job and was "scared shitless" when given the gun.

Ward was arrested more than two years ago and charged with conspiracy to murder, harbouring suspects and drug possession. The conspiracy charge was later dropped, and Ward was the first suspect to be charged with murder.

The trial was listed to start in January, but lengthy proceedings followed, including three Supreme Court appeals, two taken by Ward and one by the State. In the years since his arrest he had gone to the High Court four times to seek bail, and the Special Criminal Court became a trial-within-a-trial to rule on the legality of his arrest.

The complexity was not the only striking element in the case. It set a number of precedents. On January 21st the Special Criminal Court ruled that the defence should have limited access to 40 statements made by 20 people.

The Garda investigation team said it would drop the case rather than show Ward the statements as the lives of those people who spoke to gardai would be at risk. The Supreme Court subsequently overturned the Special Criminal Court ruling, underlining an important precedent for gardai taking statements from witnesses.