kidnap trial | 

Former Mansfield security chief tells court of traveller gangs, terror mobs and a €30m mysterious plot of land

Jim Mansfield jnr, pictured at the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) on Parkgate Street in Dublin

Nicola Tallant

A protected witness has claimed that businessman Jim Mansfield Jnr and his father-in-law, reclusive millionaire Vincent Cosgrave, asked him to meet with members of the INLA over a field that is at the centre of a brutal kidnap ordeal.

At the time, Mansfield Jnr had become increasingly desperate to regain the family jewels after the banks swooped on his father’s vast empire.

It is claimed he was under threat from different crime groups, had a convicted fraudster known as ‘The Fat Man’ living on his property and had recruited the New IRA and INLA terror thugs to represent him at business meetings.

A parcel of land near the Citywest complex known as ‘Paddy Reilly’s field’ was once valued at €30 million during the boom, the Special Criminal Court heard, but was sold to a builder for €800,000 after the Mansfield empire collapsed and went into receivership with more than €200 million in loans.

While it had never been developed for housing and was a forgotten parcel of land amidst the Mansfields’ impressive hotel and housing portfolio, it became the Achilles heel that has landed the socialite son of Ireland’s most infamous millionaire in the dock at the Special Criminal Court.

This week, as Mansfield Jnr stood accused of kidnap charges, his father’s one-time trusted employee, security boss Martin Byrne, told a court one of the most extraordinary stories of modern times, one where the underworld and legitimate business collided with chilling consequences.

Mansfield Jnr has pleaded not guilty and has strenuously denied all charges.

That he stands accused in a court more familiar with gangland hitmen, mob bosses and drug dealers is remarkable in itself. Once the Prince of Palmerstown House, he was the heir to a vast €300 million fortune, drove a Rolls Royce, entertained top models and had a collection of llamas.

But life wasn’t all rosy. By 2011, when his father's fortune collapsed, he was allegedly paying €10,000 a month to the Real IRA, then led by Alan Ryan, to protect him from criminal gangs from the Traveller community who were looking for money they claimed they were owed.

Jim Mansfield Snr at Citywest

The Special Criminal court also heard that three years later, when his father succumbed to terminal illness, Junior was surrounded by terrorists and criminals, many of whom he had recruited himself. It is claimed they included a dodgy financier known as ‘The Fat Man’ who was living at his family home, New IRA extortionists under commander Colin Duffy and members of two different INLA factions.

Apart from the criminals, unwitting businessmen were also tied up in Mansfield’s desire to win back Paddy Reilly’s field, the Special Criminal Court heard on Friday.

According to Byrne, both Mansfield Jnr and his father-in-law, Vincent Cosgrave, asked him to meet with INLA terrorists in a bid to strong-arm the land back when legitimate talks broke down.

Cosgrave’s daughter, Donna, and Mansfield Jnr split years ago, but she sat in court to support her ex-husband along with their adult children, Ingrid and Samuel, this week.

Mansfield Jnr’s secretary, Sally Anne Browne, was also given dispensation to stay in the courtroom when members of the public were asked to leave before the arrival of the State’s witness Byrne, such is the level of security he now must live under.

Real IRA chief Alan Ryan

Calm and assured, he told the court that he had been employed by Mansfield Snr around 2005 as his head of security at Citywest Hotel and stayed on after receiver Martin Ferris took over the business.

He said that he was there when the Mansfield father and son were told to leave the hotel, along with senior members of their staff.

He told the court that they initially believed what was happening was illegal, but later put a plan together to get back three key assets – Finnstown House Hotel, 30 townhouses at Saggart Court Lodge and Paddy Reilly’s field, a vast chunk of land off the N7.

Mansfield Snr brought in an old friend, Kevin McGeogh, a businessman from Dundalk, to negotiate on his behalf, it was claimed.

Mr Byrne said he had retained three key areas of land, access routes to the golf course and the hotel and was set to use them as a bargaining tool.

“McGeogh was given power over the ransom strips. He was to negotiate with them for Finnstown Hotel, Saggart Court and Paddy Reilly’s field. At the time they (Mansfield Snr and Jnr) were concerned that they would be seen as retaining properties as Nama was involved. So it was agreed that McGeogh would hold them and then pass them back to Junior,” he explained.

The court was told McGeogh put together a package and got a financier, builder Gerard McGreevy from Newry, to come on board. They purchased Paddy Reilly’s field but agreed to sell it back to the Mansfield’s once they met a 50 percent repayment on an agreed date, it was claimed.

It is claimed the builder would get the Saggart Court townhouses ready for sale and find buyers, while the Mansfields would get Finnstown House Hotel in return. But, according to Mr Byrne, things didn’t quite work out.

“There was a period of probably two years when Mansfield Snr was involved in meetings with Ferris (receiver). When receivership happened it just happened suddenly. There had been rumours but…he was just handed a letter by Ferris in his office. I was there. Ferris said he was taking charge and asked Senior and Junior and anyone else in management to leave. They left. Senior just shook hands and left,” Byrne told the court.

Byrne says he was later called to a family meeting in Tassagart House attended by Jim Mansfield Jnr, his brothers Tony and PJ and their father. It was agreed to bring in McGeogh. But there were other hidden problems.

The former Citywest head of security told the court that he first realised Mansfield Jnr was ‘in trouble’ back in 2011 when he was told he was paying €2,500-a-week to the Real IRA. He said he had been tipped-off that Jnr and his financial adviser, James O’Gorman, known as ‘The Fat Man’, were paying the ‘protection money’ due to a number of threats he was under.

James 'the Fat Man' O'Gorman

O’Gorman, a convicted fraudster, had been employed by Mansfield Jnr to find ways of raising money to salvage assets, the court heard.

“I became aware of threats to his life. One was a threat that was made by a member of the Wall Traveller family in relation to a debt. Another was in relation to money owed for houses purchased in Saggart Court Lodge by the Kavanaghs,” Byrne said. The ‘Kavanaghs’ have not yet been identified in the trial.

As negotiations continued over the clawback of the three key assets, Senior’s health deteriorated and Jim Mansfield Jnr took the reins.

‘The Fat Man’ O’Gorman was moved into the family home and set up offices in the basement. He remained at the house, allegedly coming up with ways to raise money.

Meanwhile, Mansfield Jnr missed a number of deadlines with McGeogh and McGreevy and relations turned sour.

Mr Byrne said Mansfield brought in two different terror groups to represent him. He said the New IRA, under the command of Colin Duffy, were hired. But when members of an INLA faction working for the Travellers switched side to Mansfield they “became responsible for security” at the family home.

“At that point, both Jimmy Mansfield Jnr and his father-in-law Vincent Cosgrave asked me to meet with members of an INLA group to get back the field. It was relayed to me that Gerard McGreevy wasn’t going to be bullied into signing over the field. This INLA group were separate to the faction conducting security at the Tassaggart House.

By June 2015, Byrne said that Mansfield Jnr contacted him and asked him to come to Tassagart House to meet him. There, he told him he was under pressure from Cosgrave to meet with two men who had dealings with McGeogh before. He told the court that he needed to get Tassagart House and the adjoining properties at the Towers signed back over from McGeogh.

Declan 'Whacker' Duffy

Byrne said the meeting was arranged and he followed behind Jimmy Jnr and brother PJ to Keatingspark – a family-owned warehouse facility. When he arrived he said INLA killer Declan ‘Wacker’ Duffy and kidnapper Dessie O’Hare were waiting in the reception area.

“Declan Duffy proceeded to explain that they were going to be involved in dealing with McGeogh. I told them that at that moment Junior was already dealing with the New IRA and the INLA and that we shouldn’t continue the meeting.

“They stood up. Duffy asked which New IRA I was talking about and I said it was the leadership under Colin Duffy,” he said.

After Duffy and O’Hare left he said he asked Mansfield if he realised how ‘dangerous’ they were. “His response was he was going to get back what was his,” he said.

Asked was there a change in their relationship at that point, Byrne said: “I felt he was going down a route of his own and was having meetings behind my back with people I wasn’t aware of.”

Weeks later a second meeting was arranged and Byrne was assured by Mansfield Jnr it would be just with O’Hare, nobody else. “He said he spoke to O’Hare and that he had come up with an agreement with McGeogh.

Dessie O'Hare, 'The Border Fox'

“He wanted to finalise some information that would help them in finishing off that deal and asked would I meet with O’Hare. I said I wouldn’t. He was agitated. He felt he was at the final hurdle of getting these properties back.

“I persisted for a while, had a cup of coffee, more of a chat and then said I’d go as long as it was just him, just Dessie. He said that would be no problem.”

The meeting was arranged for the following morning but when Byrne arrived at Keatingspark he was first confronted by O’Hare and Duffy and then by five others who surrounded him and bundled him into a car. O’Hare, he said, remarked to Mansfield Jnr: “Your job is done.”

Byrne then endured a terrifying ordeal as the INLA mob tried to evict him from his home with force, came to blows with the security personnel in place at the house and warned him ‘You’re next’ as he watched a guard known as ‘J’ beaten into an unconscious state.

Mansfield has pleaded not guilty to the kidnap charges.

The trial continues.

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