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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 18:25 GMT
Death of an Irish heroine
Veronica Guerin
Investigative reporter Veronica Guerin with her family
By the BBC's Ireland correspondent Kevin Connolly

It was the way in which she lived as much as the way she died that made Veronica Guerin an Irish heroine.

Her image was that of the driven investigative reporter whose "scoops" could set the nation's agenda.

It was an image that set her apart from the rest of the modern news industry, a tough hack who worked through her contacts on stories that made the rich, the powerful and the criminal feel uncomfortable.

But it also made them angry.

John Gilligan was rich, powerful and a criminal too. The flashy lifestyle he adopted as money from his cannabis smuggling operation rolled in began to attract Ms Guerin's attention.

Trappings of respectability

Police calculate that in the mid-1990s his gang's "business" importing cannabis resin made a profit of more than 14m.

He began to acquire the trappings of respectable wealth, including a successful racehorse.

A lifelong criminal, who had met some of the key members of his gang in prison, Gilligan had naturally attracted the attention of the police.

But he had also awakened Ms Guerin's interest and she was not easily deflected or scared.

In the end, her courage was to cost her her life.

She wrote to Gilligan asking him to explain his lifestyle and even called out police to his house after telling them he had beaten her viciously.

She was consulting a lawyer about that incident when Gilligan called on her mobile phone threatening to kill her and kidnap and rape her child.

Shot in broad daylight

Within a year, she had been brutally murdered, shot dead by the pillion passenger on a motor-cycle when her car stopped at traffic lights on a busy road in broad daylight.

Two men have been sentenced for that killing, but the way Gilligan's trial ended means that the full truth about what happened may never be known.

Gilligan had been accused of ordering her death even though he was in Amsterdam when she was gunned down. He has always denied having anything to do with her death.

The judge presiding at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, Mr Justice Diarmuid O'Donovan, said there was "the gravest suspicion" that Gilligan was complicit in the murder. But he said the matter had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Huge blow for Garda

Gilligan was sentenced to 28 years on a variety of drug offences but Ms Guerin's family and friends will feel the matter has been left unresolved.

The verdict is also a huge blow for the Irish police, the Garda Siochana, who based their prosecution on the testimony of former associates of Gilligan's who were offered Ireland's first-ever witness protection packages.

It may well lead to a re-think about how such cases are handled in future.

Ms Guerin had ironically been due to address a conference entitled "Dying to Tell a Story: Journalists at Risk" when she died.

In the end she may have given her life to tell the story, but the huge attention her trial has commanded shows that she is still remembered and the exposure of Gilligan as a criminal gang boss means the story was at least, in the end, told.

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