Living in fear: Joey is hung out to dry by cruel system

Nicola with Joey ‘the Lips’ O’Callaghan
Nicola with Joey ‘the Lips’ O’Callaghan

This is Joey ‘the Lips’ O’Callaghan, a man so terrified that he is going to be shot dead that he walked into the Department of Justice this week in a bullet-proof vest and begged for help.

Just a decade ago, the State placed him in the witness protection programme and guarded him around-the-clock so he could give evidence in a trial that saw two of Ireland’s most dangerous gangland killers sentenced to life for a brutal murder.

But as violent drug dealers Brian Kenny and Thomas Hinchon prepare for their release from prison, Joey is the one left with the real life sentence and this week the Sunday World was watching as our justice system showed him the door.

Nobody was even available to meet him in reception and a representative of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald told him over the phone that he should go to the gardai with his concerns.

Frightened and with nowhere to turn, Joey got in to the back of our surveillance car and rang Assistant Commissioner John Twomey, who was not available to take his call. 

Despite the fact Twomey has been almost a year investigating Joey’s case, neither he nor the garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan have met with him or responded to his numerous calls, letters and requests for help. 

The only person who would see him was Fianna Fail Justice Spokesman Niall Collins TD, who met with him and his mother at an undisclosed location and told them he would do all he can to help.

“What’s the point of a mandatory life sentence if they can get out at any time, it’s a joke"

Collins is now hoping to quiz minister Fitzgerald in the Dáil this week about her plans for O’Callaghan’s survival.

The 30-year-old is not really Joey O’Callaghan any more. He lives under an assumed identity and in hiding. 

Thug Kenny, who threatened to kill Joey, has enjoyed days out to see his family and attended his son’s Communion, despite serving less than 10 years. 

The Sunday World understands he is up for parole in October. Hinchon has been moved to Wheatfield and is also due for parole in the coming months.

The mother of their victim, Jonathan O’Reilly, who was coldly shot dead outside Cloverhill Prison, said she was sickened by the day trips Kenny enjoyed.

“What’s the point of a mandatory life sentence if they can get out at any time, it’s a joke,” said Dolores O’Reilly.  “Brian Kenny can sit at a table with his own son and his family while Jonathan and his own son can’t. It makes me sick.”

Kenny and Hinchon received life sentences in July 2005 after Joey gave evidence. Both were also found guilty of threatening to kill O’Callaghan, who was still a teenager when he entered the programme.

They had shot 25-year-old Jonathan, from Clondalkin, Dublin, over a row with the small-time drug dealer. 

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 too would be murdered. He told the court that the pair had arrived back to milkman Brian’s Finglas home and that Brian told him he 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.

O’Callaghan said: “I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid. He [Kenny] said he’d kill me if I opened my mouth.”

Shot: Johnathan O'Reilly

Joey disposed of the gun where instructed, but instead of returning to help get rid of the motorbike used in the murder, he went home to his mother Mary and she accompanied him to Ballymun Garda station.

Sickened by the killing of a man not much older than he was, he agreed to help jail the pair.

Joey, then aged just 18, became the youngest ever person put on the witness protection programme and became one of the State’s most important and vital witnesses.

Ten years on and much has changed. Where Joey was once guarded around-the-clock, he later exited the programme in controversial circumstances. He was signed off the programme and left to fend for himself. He has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The regime which then operated the highly-secretive system is currently under the scrutiny of GSOC and he is not the only witness to complain about inappropriate management on the programme. He has made complaints about a number of individuals who were running the programme and says that when he came back looking for help he was told: “You are on your own.”

While investigations continue into his claims, what is clear is that Joey is in dire need of help and that he believes he is a dead man walking.

Last weekend on a visit to Dublin he was set upon and attacked by two men, young thugs he knew from the Finglas area, who recognised him. They jumped him, kicked him in the ribs, arms and face and split open his head and his lip - calling him a ‘rat’ as they beat him.

Joey can’t go to the gardai and report the assault. He can’t go into a system where his true identity will be discovered and kept on a file. He is a ghost.

“I don’t know where to turn. I’m frightened. I’m going to be killed. I’m afraid for myself and for my family. I’m begging the State to help me.  I’ve been of use to them and it apperas I’m not any more. I’m going to be killed because I did the right thing,” he says.

“I’ve been hung out to dry. I put away the bad guys and look how I’ve ended up. I look over my shoulder everywhere I go. I’m being left destitute because I stood up for the State. It’s a disgrace.”