Police have arrested a notorious Irish gangster in Spain and uncovered what may be the weapon used to murder an investigative journalist in 1996.
John Gilligan, 68, was arrested on the Costa Blanca on Tuesday along with five other men including his son Darren, accused of shipping drugs to the UK and Ireland.
While searching the property, police uncovered three loaded handguns including a Colt Python that had been wrapped in plastic and buried in the garden.
The weapon is the same type used to kill Veronica Guerin, a crime reporter who had confronted Gilligan about alleged gang activity, and who was shot dead while stopped at a red light on the outskirts of Dublin 24 years ago.
The incident, which caused outrage in Ireland, was later turned into a film starring Cate Blanchett as the fearless reporter.
Gillian was accused of ordering the murder but was acquitted at trial in 2001. He was instead sentenced to 28 years for smuggling cannabis, and was freed in 2013.
John Gilligan, 68, a notorious Irish gang leader, was arrested on Spain’s Costa Blanca on Friday, accused of running a drug smuggling ring
While searching the property where he was arrested, officers found three loaded handguns including this Colt Python
Ballistics experts are now investigating whether the weapon found today and the one used to kill Guerin are one and the same.
Gilligan has been remanded in custody while the investigation is carried out.
Video of Gilligan’s arrest was released by Spanish police, and shows armed officers rushing into the property and ordering him on to the ground where he is handcuffed.
Two officers with a metal detector are then shown searching a patch of gravel-covered ground between two walls, before unearthing the gun.
Officers can also be seen going through boxes of children’s toys and uncovering drugs, which they say were destined for the UK and Ireland.
A Spanish National Police spokesman said: ‘The operation that led to the six arrests in the province of Alicante began last year after it was discovered that a gang allegedly led by a well-known Irish criminal had established itself in the areas of Torrevieja and Orihuela Costa.
The gun found at the property is the same type of weapon used to shoot dead crime reporter Veronica Guerin (pictured) in 1996
‘Officers made contact with other police forces and thanks to this international police operation were able to identify other suspected members of the gang.
‘Through initial inquiries, it was discovered the gang had allegedly specialised in sending drugs via post by hiding it in parcels that were sent to Ireland and the UK from Spain.
‘Thanks to intelligence work conducted in Spain in cooperation with Irish authorities, it was discovered a consignment of weapons was going to be handed over in Ireland by members of the gang based there.
‘This led to the seizure of three 9mm pistols which were loaded and ready for use.
‘Thanks to the hard work of the investigators four postal deliveries were intercepted in Spain, in which four kilos of marijuana and 15,000 tablets had been hidden.’
Although the tablets seized have not been named, they have been described as sedative hypnotic pills thought to be known as Zopiclone or ‘zimos’.
The other five suspects have been released but have been forced to hand over their passports while investigations continue.
It may be several months or more than a year before charges are formally brought against the gang.
Gilligan can be held for up to two years without bail before investigators are forced to release him.
Police say it is not yet clear how long it will take to determine if the weapon they have found and the weapon that was used to kill Guerin are a match.
Gilligan was forced to flee Ireland in 2014 after two attempts on his life following his release from prison.
In one instance he was shot in the face, chest, hip and leg while sitting on the toilet, before being shot at a second time five months later.
Police also discovered 15,000 tablets thought to contain sedative Zopiclone along with 8lbs of marijuana during Friday’s raid
Gillian was arrested alongside five other men, including his son Darren. The other five have been released while investigations continue, but Gilligan will be held in custody
Gilligan was accused of ordering Guerin’s murder, but was acquitted at trial in 2001 (pictured). He was instead jailed for 28 years for smuggling cannabis, and served 17
It is unclear exactly how he ended up in Spain, when he arrived, or how long he has been operating there.
Guerin’s murder led to multiple other convictions. Paul Ward was sentenced to life as an accomplice on the grounds he had disposed of the rmurder weapon, but the conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal.
Brian ‘Tosser’ Meehan was convicted of her murder and remains in prison, although reports last year said he could be out in just five years after he was transferred from a maximum security jail.
Guerin was working for the Sunday Independent when she was shot dead at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross on the outskirts of Dublin on June 26 1996.
The Colt Python revolver used to shoot her by one of two men on a motorbike, which had been loaded with .357 Magnum Semiwadcutter bullets, was never found.
Her funeral was attend by Irish Taoiseach John Bruton, who described her murder as an ‘attack on democracy’ and the head of Ireland’s armed forces.
In the run-up to her assassination, Guerin had filed charges for assault against Gilligan after he allegedly hit her at his £5million equestrian centre in County Kildare in September 1995 while she tried to quiz him about how he made his money.
The judge who acquitted the drugs baron accepted he had made a chilling telephone threat on September 15 1995 to kill her and kidnap her five-year-old son.
The journalist also had shots fired at her house in October 1994.
The following January she opened her door to a gunman wearing a motorbike helmet who shot her in thigh the day after writing an article about another high-profile Irish criminal.
Guerin’s death caused outcry in Ireland at the time, and her story was later turned into a 2003 movie starring Cate Blanchett as the reporter
Award-winning Guerin was killed two days before she was due to speak at a Freedom Forum conference in London. The topic of her segment was ‘Dying to Tell the Story: Journalists at Risk.’
Within a week of her murder the Irish parliament enacted two pieces of legislations enabling assets from the proceeds of time to be seized by the government. It led to the formation of the Criminal Assets Bureau.
Last year Gilligan walked free from court after a judge threw out criminal property charges against him.
The Irishman was arrested at Belfast International Airport in 2018 with more than £20,130 in his baggage ahead of a flight to Alicante.
Prosecutors at the time said he intended to purchase a prescription drug, Zopiclone, in Spain for distribution on the Irish drug market.
Zopiclone or ‘zimos’ are sold by street dealers to addicts.
Gilligan denied the claims. The case was ultimately dismissed by a judge who said suspicion was insufficient to warrant a conviction in criminal courts.
In recent years he is said to have divided his time between the Costa Blanca and the south coast of England with a new woman in his life following his split with wife Geraldine.