Page last updated at 19:46 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 20:46 UK

Is this man Veronica Guerin's killer?

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A man has been jailed for his part in a plot to kidnap and torture a London tycoon using a woman as a "honey trap". But did Patrick "Dutchy" Holland murder Irish investigative journalist Veronica Guerin?

Dutchy Holland
Holland was once named in court as Guerin's killer

Veronica Guerin was a heroine to many people in her native country in the mid-1990s for her tireless exposure of the drug barons who were undermining its "Celtic tiger" image.

The Irish investigative journalist was shot dead in June 1996 by the pillion passenger on a motorbike as she stopped at traffic lights at Naas, just outside Dublin.

Three men were later put on trial for murder. One - Dublin drug dealer John Gilligan - was acquitted.

The prosecution had claimed he ordered Ms Guerin be killed after she wrote about him in the Sunday Independent.

But the judge, Mr Justice O'Donovan, said while the court had great suspicions about Mr Gilligan's involvement in the murder, it had not been persuaded beyond reasonable doubt.

A second man was convicted but cleared on appeal.

Only one man was convicted. Brian Meehan is believed to have been riding the motorbike and he is still in jail for the murder. But the actual gunman has escaped justice.

The man who pulled the trigger is widely believed to be Patrick "Dutchy" Holland, who was jailed on Friday, for his involvement in a kidnap conspiracy.

Veronica Guerin
26 June 1996: Investigative journalist Veronica Guerin shot dead in Naas, near Dublin
1997: Eugene "Dutchy" Holland named as her killer during an Irish court case
July 1999: Brian Meehan jailed for life for his involvement in the murder
Mar 2001: John Gilligan, acquitted of ordering Ms Guerin's murder, is jailed for 28 years on drugs charges
May 2008: Holland jailed for eight years after being convicted of conspiring to kidnap a tycoon in London

Holland, a 69-year-old career criminal, was named in court by a Garda officer as being the killer during a trial in the Irish Republic a decade ago.

But he was never tried for the crime.

The crime editor of Ireland's Sunday World newspaper, Paul Williams, has no doubt that Holland was the killer and says he has seen documents which prove it.

He said: "There were several witnesses who named Dutchy as the gunman but they were too terrified to stand up in court and give evidence."

In his book, The Evil Empire: The Irish Mob and the Assassination of Veronica Guerin, Mr Williams described why she was killed.

"A major Irish criminal wanted to shut her up and he considered himself untouchable. But he didn't realise what a big story it would become and how much pressure the state would come under to react," Mr Williams told the BBC News website.

'Honey trap'

Holland was jailed for possession of cannabis by an Irish court in 1997 but in April 2006 he walked out of Portlaoise prison.

He moved to London and a few months later was getting involved in another criminal enterprise.

In early 2007 he teamed up with fellow Irishmen John McDonnell and Gerard Booth and London villain Simon Young, and cooked up an ambitious "honey trap" kidnap plot which they hoped would raise 10m.

After several attempts were made to follow tycoon Nasir Zahid to his home address the gang came up with the "honey trap" idea.

The gang planned to use 24-year-old secretary Khan Coombs as "sex bait" to lure Mr Zahid from the office of his company, Tradex Limited, in Chiswick, west London, so they could kidnap and torture him.

The trial heard Mr Zahid's kidnap was ordered and financed by a Belgian businessman called Patrick van Cantfort, known as "The Banker", who felt Mr Zahid had double crossed him over a deal.

But police heard about the plot and bugged the gang.

I haven't killed anybody ever - there is no blood on my hands
"Dutchy" Holland

They overheard McDonnell telling Miss Coombs: "We're going to send you into the office and you're going to try to flirt with this bastard to see if he'll ask you out - which he will, that's the type of dog he is.

"If he comes out we're going to grab him. If this comes off there's 10m involved in this job. When you bring him out we can take him to the slaughterhouse."

The plan began to collapse on 30 April 2007 when Miss Coombs, wearing a 500 Cerutti jacket, arrived at Mr Zahid's import/export firm asking about job vacancies but was turned away without being able to speak to him.

Drug barons

Police swooped before the gang could try again and in March Holland, McDonnell, Booth, Young and Coombs were convicted of conspiracy to kidnap.

But the question remains - did Holland kill Veronica Guerin?

In a television interview 10 years ago Holland said: "I haven't killed anybody ever. There is no blood on my hands."

Mr Williams says the Irish state cracked down on the drug barons for about a year after the Veronica Guerin killing but he said things were now as bad, if not worse, than in the mid-1990s with large-scale drug dealing and frequent gang violence.

"The situation is arguably worse than it was when Veronica was writing her stories," he said.

Last year there were 84 murders in the Republic of Ireland, the highest number since the civil war.


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