Who were Hogan's killers?

21 July 2001
Sunday Business Post
Barry O'Kelly

If there is such a thing as a likeable criminal, Seamus 'Shavo' Hogan was one. He was also one of the 'great burglars', a master criminal who played a leading role in all the big 1980s heists of the late Martin Cahill, known as the General.

But in the drugs trade these qualities are meaningless. Hogan, despite his denials, was no longer just a creeper or robber; his main source of income since the General's murder in 1994 came from drugs -- primarily cannabis, but sometimes heroin -- a business that swallows up men like Hogan. Last Saturday night, when a team of hit men paid him a call for the third and last time, the 48-year-old career criminal was facing potential problems from numerous quarters.

In the drug business, where everybody is a suspected informant until proven otherwise, Hogan was in trouble over a recent cocaine seizure. Only a small number of people knew about the deal, and Hogan was one of them. A major south Dublin criminal, formerly associated with the General, lost a considerable investment and personnel because of the garda bust.

In Holland, one of the most feared drug dealers from Dublin -- a man accused of four murders -- was upset about the collapse of another drug deal. The drugs were delivered but the £200,000-plus payment was allegedly never made. Hogan is believed to have made the introductions between the Irish and Dutch sides. In west Dublin, drugs were being sold below the previous going rate. Two criminals with growing reputations for violence may have been upset about the arrival of competition. It was claimed that Hogan was the new competitor.

There were also long-standing grudges with former associates who had recently completed sentences in Portlaoise prison and, unsurprisingly, with a man who shot Hogan in the back two years ago. This man was shot and wounded afterwards by two men in an apparent revenge attack. The Provisional IRA and the Real IRA -- which had also tried to have Hogan murdered -- were a continuing threat.

However, Hogan's killers may have come from closer to home. The Sunday Business Post understands that a small group of anti-drugs activists, with links to the Republican movement, may have carried out the murder. It's understood that the hit was not sanctioned by the leadership of any paramilitary group. Informed sources claimed that one of Hogan's killers was also behind two of the murder attempts on self-confessed criminal Jim 'The Whale' Gantley. The sources claimed a number of Hogan's associates would be targeted next.

The hit last weekend was somewhat unprofessional. The two gunmen arrived in a stolen Mazda 323. They shot Hogan in front of a CCTV camera as he pulled in to the Transport Club on Clogher Road, Crumlin, at 9.25 on Saturday night. The getaway car was not set alight afterwards and may produce forensic clues.

Hogan probably saved the life of his wife Lilly by pushing her out the passenger door of their car as he tried to reverse away from the killers. His partner said the family was deeply upset afterwards when Hogan was described in a newspaper report as a wife-beater, a claim she denied.

It was an ignominious end for a man who thought he would retire a millionaire, having taken part in one of the biggest art robberies ever, the theft of the Beit paintings in 1986. Over the course of five meetings, Hogan -- speaking on condition of anonymity for legal reasons -- told this reporter about the theft of the paintings, of hundreds of files (including the Fr Molloy murder case) from the Chief State Solicitor's office, the theft of guns from garda stores and about his late friend, the General.

According to other members of Cahill's gang, Hogan was considered to be the most adept at break-ins. The theft of the Chief State Solicitor's files was "just another job" for him. Hogan gained access by cutting out a panel in the rear of the premises and then spent three hours perusing the files. "They weren't much use, apart from Fr Molloy's file," he said. The theft of the guns from the garda depot in John's Road, Dublin, highlighted a glaring security lapse. Hogan "walked through the front gate, pretending to be a tradesman". He made three visits and took out 20 guns.

After the Beit robbery, Hogan thought he'd "never have to wear a pair of gloves again, but we didn't get a shilling. Of course we're bitter," he said. It was widely reported that Cahill received £350,000 for a number of the less valuable paintings.

"I don't want to bad-mouth him. Martin was like a brother to me in the early days. He was kind, loyal, decent. But the pressure from the police got to him and he changed," said Hogan.

The break-in at the Co Wicklow mansion in May 1986 was a simpler affair than reported. The heist began with the robbers deliberately setting off the alarm system and retreating into bushes. The gang, led by the General, had set off the alarm on several nights before the robbery. The false alarms had become a nuisance and the alarm was not being re-set afterwards, he said.

Hogan forced open the window with a chisel. "Of course everybody was nervous," he said, "but it was easy. The chisel did most of the work." The General had the honour of removing the Vermeer painting, Lady Writing a Letter, worth £20 million. It was "really a very simple robbery", he said. He had carried out "harder burglaries". But the gang had no clue about the significance of the paintings and wouldn't have known a Goya from a Dali, he said.

The paintings, worth upwards of £40 million, were stored afterwards in a coal shed in a back garden, he revealed. "Some of the paintings got damp. It was very difficult to look after them with all the surveillance," he admitted. "Robbing the paintings was the easy bit. Everybody thought they were going to be millionaires. But after that night, everything went downhill. There was a curse on those paintings." The gang thought they would retire, but their troubles were only beginning.

The subsequent overt surveillance operation mounted by the Garda Tango Squad failed to deliver a prosecution against the General, but it effectively destroyed his gang. "The first week it started, we thought 'This is great craic'. But it became a nightmare: beeping horns and shining torches into the house at night. It really upset family life," he said. "You could not go out for a drink without a policeman sitting beside you. Some of them were okay, you could have a laugh with them, but some of them took it very personally."

Cahill "revelled" in the publicity surrounding the high profile garda operation, said Hogan. "We would have done anything for him, but in the end he became totally paranoid. He didn't trust anyone. "He wanted to kidnap crime reporter Paul Williams, strip him and tie him to a lamp post with barbed wire. Martin got big into mind games with the police, with the Mickey Mouse boxer shorts and all that. But where did it get him?

"After you do a robbery, what you want to do is go home and count your money. But he wasn't content with that; he had to taunt the police. "He wasn't the biggest criminal in this town, but he was the one they had to go after because he was putting it up to them."

The Tango Squad operation coincided with prosecutions against five associates of the General: his brother Eddie, brother-in-law John Foy, Shavo Hogan, Martin Foley and Eamon Daly. "In the end, the surveillance worked. It made it very difficult for us to do anything. You couldn't get a particular car or motorbike that you wanted for a job. You couldn't take the same precautions as you did before."

Hogan was later attacked by former members of the General's gang in Portlaoise prison over allegations that he informed on a member of the gang. On his release from jail in 1992, Hogan said he was a regular visitor to the Cahills' house in Cowper Downs in Rathmines. "I wouldn't have been going up to Martin's for a cup of tea if he thought I was an informant. That incident in the prison was over something else. "When it started, Martin told us: 'They are going to try and get to you by dividing and conquering, like Cromwell. They will make us all think we're touting on one another.' But in the end, it was Martin who fell into the trap."

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