NewsCrime Desk

State witness in hiding has been hung out to dry

Brian Kenny
Brian Kenny

Gardai never informed a State witness that the evil gang boss who was jailed for life on his evidence is being let out of prison for visits to his family.

Joey ‘the Lips’ O’Callaghan had to be placed on the witness protection programme when he was just 18 years of age when he agreed to testify against violent drug boss Brian Kenny and his sidekick Thomas Hinchon.

But despite promises he would be kept informed if the cold-blooded killer was ever getting out of prison, he was kept in the dark about Kenny’s release, his mother told the Sunday World in an exclusive interview this week.

O’Callaghan was the youngest person to ever endure the brutal witness protection programme when he agreed to turn in the killers of Jonathan O’Reilly, shot dead in cold blood outside Cloverhill Prison.

He spent years living as a protected witness and has had to relocate outside the jurisdiction since leaving behind his friends, family and home.

Now his nightmare has started all over again with revelations that lifer Brian Kenny is already enjoying days out from prison, despite being less than a decade behind bars.

Joey O’Callaghan’s mum Mary says he is living in fear that he will be shot dead by the psychopathic thug, whose ‘good behaviour’ in jail has won him extraordinary privileges.

“Joseph is distraught,” Mary revealed this week. “He cannot believe that Kenny has been out and that he hasn’t even been informed.

“He did the right thing, but any chance of a normal life was taken from him as a result. He wears a bullet-proof vest, lives in a constant state of fear and can never relax. 

“He was promised that if Kenny was ever due for parole or getting temporary release, he would be informed immediately, but we have been kept in the dark. He has been used and now left to rot,” she said.

Kenny and his sidekick Thomas Hinchon got life sentences in July 2005 for the murder of 25-year-old Jonathan O’Reilly. Both were also found guilty of threatening to kill O’Callaghan, who was 19 years old when he turned State witness.

Thomas Hinchon

O’Callaghan, who was living with Kenny and his partner at the time, told the court that he was told not to open his mouth to anyone about the killing or he would be murdered too.

He told the court that the pair had arrived back to milkman Brian’s home in Finglas, Dublin, and told him they had shot O’Reilly. He also told the court that Kenny asked him to bury the gun and burn the clothes that he and Hinchon had worn to shoot him.

He told the trial that he was sickened by Kenny’s involvement in the murder and days afterwards made contact with his sister, went home to his mother Mary and then went to gardai and led them to the gun. He entered the witness protection programme for the trial.

Last week, the Sunday World revealed that Kenny has been released four times over the past two years for days out with his family. Hinchon has recently been moved to Wheatfield Prison, where he is attending a programme designed to help prisoners prepare for life on the outside.

Last week, Jonathan O’Reilly’s parents said they were horrified to learn that the killers were enjoying such perks while they were left with the void of losing their son.

Now the witness who gave up his own life to put them in prison says he has been hung out to dry by Gardai and the State, and says he is now a walking target for the men.

Mary said her son was distraught to hear that Kenny had been out of jail but that he had never been informed.

“We were promised that if anything like this happened we would be informed” she said. “I had to read about it in the Sunday World. 

The scene of Jonathan O'Reilly's killing

“I was shocked, horrified. Our hearts go out to the O’Reilly family. We cannot even imagine how they must be feeling about this. But we are terrified too.

“I got in contact with Joey to tell him and he has been in a dreadful state ever since. He is afraid to come home, constantly looking over his shoulder and feels like he has been used and abused by the State.

“My son did the right thing, but it is him who has the life sentence and not the men he put away,” she said.

Joey had to walk away from his life as he knew it, his family and even his identity when he agreed to give evidence against Kenny and Hinchon. 

They were deemed so dangerous that Joseph had to enter the protection programme and was relocated outside Ireland. His time on the programme was controversial and is now the subject of a major investigation.

When he started working for ‘milkman’ Brian Kenny, he was quickly drawn into his dark world and soon moved in with him and his partner Rita Harling in their north Dublin home.

But while Joey appeared to be holding down a respectable job, behind the scenes things were very different for the vulnerable young teenager.

Kenny, a ruthless gang boss and feared drug dealer, was grooming Joey into the world of crime. He terrorised him with threats and physical assaults while using him as part of his crime gang.

But in 2004, when Kenny told him he had settled a score and killed young Jonathan O’Reilly, he knew had to get out.

Kenny and Hinchon had been rising up the ranks of violent drug gangs and stood out among the crowd for the savage beatings they doled out. 

“Joey was disgusted and distraught by the murder of Jonathan O’Reilly,” said Mary. 

“He knew he had to do the right thing and at the expense of his own life he offered to help. Now he has been thrown on the rubbish heap – forgotten.”

Last week, Dolores O’Reilly told the Sunday World that O’Callaghan had bravely put his own life in danger to get justice for her son:

“That young man is still looking over his shoulder today, he stood up to those bullies and got justice for our son. We admire him for his courage and his bravery,” she said.