Irishman John Gilligan arrested after possible murder weapon in journalist Veronica Guerin's death found

Jack Hardy
·3-min read
Mr Gilligan has been arrested by Spanish police after a gun was found hidden in the garden of a commercial premises in Costa Blanca.  - Solarpix
Mr Gilligan has been arrested by Spanish police after a gun was found hidden in the garden of a commercial premises in Costa Blanca. - Solarpix

A notorious Irish criminal has been arrested nearly 20 years on from his acquittal over a journalist’s murder, following the discovery of the suspected murder weapon. 

John Gilligan was cleared in 2001 of ordering the killing of Veronica Guerin, an Irish investigative journalist who was gunned down on the outskirts of Dublin in 1996.

The drugs baron subsequently served 17 years in prison for importing cannabis resin until he was released in 2013. He has since divided his time between England and Spain.

On Friday, it emerged that Mr Gilligan had been arrested by Spanish police after a gun was found hidden in the garden of a commercial premises in Costa Blanca. 

Spanish ballistics experts are now analysing the weapon to confirm whether it is the Colt Python revolver a hitman on a motorbike used to murder the 37-year-old reporter after she stopped at traffic lights in her car. 

Police sources in Spain said the weapon was the “same brand and model” as the one used in the assassination.

A source said: “Gilligan’s arrest followed an investigation into a gang of suspected drugs traffickers.

“The weapon was found hidden and buried during one of the police searches that formed part of this investigation.”

Another source added: “It is too early at this stage to say whether the gun that has been found is the one used to murder Veronica Guerin but it is the same brand and model.

“The weapon was found during police searches sparked by an investigation into a gang that was sending marijuana and prescription drugs sold by street dealers to addicts from Spain to Ireland and the UK. Drugs have been seized as well as the gun.”

Six people, including Mr Gilligan, have been arrested in Spain as part of the operation. 

John Gilligan walks free from Portlaoise prison in 2013 - PA
John Gilligan walks free from Portlaoise prison in 2013 - PA

The June 1996 assassination of Ms Guerin caused outrage in Ireland and inspired a 2003 biographical crime film, Veronica Guerin, starring Cate Blanchett in the title role.

She had built a career writing about the Irish criminal underworld and was murdered while working as a crime report for the Sunday Independent

In the months before her assassination, Ms Guerin had filed charges for assault against Mr Gilligan after he allegedly hit her at his equestrian centre in County Kildare when she tried to question him about how he made his money.

Veronica Guerin with her son Cathal - PA
Veronica Guerin with her son Cathal - PA

Her funeral was attend by John Bruton, the Irish Taoiseach, who described her murder as an “attack on democracy".

Mr Gilligan, now 68, was cleared of masterminding the reporter’s killing in March 2001 after a 43-day multi-million pound trial at Dublin’s Special Criminal Court.

Judge Darmuid O’Donovan said he had “grave suspicions” the drugs baron was involved in the killing.

He survived an attempt on his life just five months after leaving prison in 2013, when two masked gunmen shot him in the chest, stomach and leg at his brother’s house.

Sources said that Mr Gilligan’s arrest was the work of a specialist unit of Spain’s National Police called GRECO that was set up to respond to organised crime.

Spanish police have yet to make an official comment.