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Wednesday, May 6, 1998 Published at 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK

World: Europe

The second fall of Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin, right, pictured with son Cathal and husband Graham Turley

When the renowned crime reporter Veronica Guerin was gunned down on the outskirts of Dublin in June 1996 she became a modern-day Irish saint.

For two years she had mounted a high-profile war against Ireland's drug barons on the pages of a leading Sunday newspaper. Her assassination was greeted with shock and anger both by fellow journalists and the public. The Irish police, the Garda Siochana, and the political establishment vowed to track down her killers.

[ image: Author Emily O'Reilly:
Author Emily O'Reilly: "I stand by every word"
That was then. This week a new book, Veronica Guerin: The Life and Death of a Crime Reporter, is being published in Britain that claims Ms Guerin was ruthless, devious and - worst of all - a bad mother. The book accuses Ms Guerin of putting her young son Cathal at risk by taking him with her when she met dangerous criminals. One drug boss, it says, even threatened to kidnap and rape him.

But critics say the author, Irish reporter Emily O'Reilly, cannot take the moral high ground. They say Mrs O'Reilly is besmirching Ms Guerin's saintly reputation out of professional jealousy.

Who is right? In an interview with BBC News Online, Mrs O'Reilly defended her book. She maintains that her motives are above reproach and insists that Ms Guerin's former publisher Independent Newspapers has whipped up a "backlash" against the book.

'It is not a hatchet job'

Mrs O'Reilly says she stands by the book and does not regret writing it.

"The critics tried to depict it as a hatchet job before they had even read it," she said. "They wanted to deflect attention from their role in Veronica's death. In some ways it has come too early for people. There is an awful lot of guilt - including media guilt - about Veronica's death."

[ image:  ]
Mrs O'Reilly says Ms Guerin blurred the line between journalist and detective in her hunt for a story and made herself and her son a target.

"Veronica had a child-like ignorance of danger. No Gardai would have done what she done without back up from six squad cars and a direct phone line to the commissioner of police _ I think it was done to disarm these hard men she was interviewing."

While reluctant to criticise Ms Guerin outright she says: "It's always difficult for journalists but (former BBC war correspondent) Martin Bell didn't bring his children along to the frontline in Bosnia.

'She was never a competitor'

Mrs O'Reilly also dismissed accusations that she was motivated by jealousy. In fact, she says she considered Ms Guerin a friend.

"She was working largely in crime reporting and I was a political reporter. She was never on my list of competitors."

She added that Ms Guerin's death had changed the way crime is reported in Ireland.

Today, she says journalists are more protected. There are fewer of the "barn-storming exclusives" for which Ms Guerin was renowned - and for which ultimately she paid the price.

Liz Allen, the reporter who has taken over from Veronica Guerin at the Sunday Independent, is the subject of Radio 4's "A Hard Act to Follow" programme on June 16.

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Internet Links

Veronica Guerin's funeral (Irish Times)

Man suspected of killing Veronica 'had bugging device in his shoe'

Editorial on Veronica Guerin murder (Munster Express)

First anniversary of Veronica Guerin murder (Irish Times)

Strong leads in massive murder hunt

Gilligan cited for contempt

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