Life of crime  | 

How Caolan Smyth went from promising boxer to petty criminal to hitman for hire

After his 20 year jail sentence was passed, Smyth turned to family members in the courtroom and said: "Five World Cups, and I'll be out".

Caolan Smyth

Robin Schiller

Caolan Smyth yesterday joined the long list of criminals serving lengthy prison terms for serious crimes carried out at the behest of the Kinahan cartel.

Coming from a broken home and without completing his secondary-level education, the physically imposing boxer was the type of person primed to be used by the crime gang.

Escalating from petty offences to more serious lawlessness, his life of crime yesterday culminated in a 20-year prison term for attempted murder.

Born on November 22, 1991, Smyth grew up in the Coolock area of Dublin where he was the eldest of two children.

His parents separated when he was younger, which his sentencing hearing was told led to a period of “inadequate supervision” in his life.

At the age of 12, he relocated to Co Louth, at a time when he displayed promise in boxing and won an All-Ireland title.

However, the discipline displayed in the ring didn’t last. He left school after completing his Junior Cert exams and soon became involved in criminality.

He first worked in retail and security, but notched up his first criminal conviction in 2012 at the age of 20.

Smyth would regularly come to the attention of local gardaí in the following years.

In January 2013 he avoided a conviction after being caught siphoning diesel from a car in Duleek, Co Meath.

The crime was described by his own solicitor as a ‘Laurel and Hardy’-type situation after telling the court Smyth drove a petrol car. He was handed a five-year driving ban in 2015, and more serious convictions were to follow for crimes including burglary, car thefts and handling stolen property.

By 2016 he was appearing on garda intelligence more frequently for associating with a drug gang in the Finglas area.

Standing at over 6ft 2in and with a boxing pedigree, he made a good enforcer for the crime group.

The gang, led by a criminal known as ‘Mr Flashy’, had close ties with the Kinahan cartel. It was this association that led to Caolan Smyth being employed to murder James Gately in the summer of 2017.

A car involved in a shooting of James Gately is removed from the scene on the Clonshaugh Road near Dublin Airport. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

By that stage Gately had become a prime target for the Kinahan organised crime group, who hold him responsible for involvement in the Regency Hotel shooting – a crime for which he has never been charged.

In April 2017 detectives foiled a planned hit on the 34-year-old when they arrested Estonian hitman Imre Arakas prior to an assassination attempt in Belfast. Gately was formally warned of a threat to his life and took to wearing a bullet-proof vest.

It was the Kevlar protective suit that saved his life the following month when Caolan Smyth fired five bullets into his face and body at a filling station on the Clonshaugh Road in Dublin.

An extensive garda investigation was launched and Smyth was quickly identified as a chief suspect.

CCTV footage clearly showed him at the filling station the previous day in the same vehicle used in the hit. He was arrested on July 25 that year but later released without charge as detectives began to build a case against him.

The increased garda attention didn’t deter Smyth, and he remained heavily involved in organised crime in the Coolock and Ballymun areas.

In May 2019, Sean Little (22) was found shot dead in a burnt-out car near Walshestown, north Dublin, in a murder linked to a local feud that claimed five lives.

Little’s associates blamed a number of people, including Smyth, who was once linked to the same drug gang as the dead man. The father of three attempted to protest his innocence – even taking a lie-detector test in the UK, which indicated that he had no involvement in the murder.

It did little to disperse the suspicions around him, and in September 2019 gardaí intervened just as a hit team planned to shoot Smyth at his Artane home.

Stephen Little, Sean Little’s father, was later jailed for six years for firearms possession. He told gardaí who arrested him: “Had you given me another hour I would have killed the bastard that killed him.”

The following month, Caolan Smyth was rearrested and charged with the attempted murder of James Gately. At this stage, at least two other Coolock criminals were actively targeting Smyth.

James 'Mago' Gately was shot five times in Dublin in 2017 and survived the attack

The threats led to Smyth being placed in protective custody and on 23-hour lockdown in the Midlands prison.

At the Special Criminal Court yesterday, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said the non-jury court noted there were others "equally or more culpable" for the attack than gunman Caolan Smyth, whom he described as a "ruthless and dangerous" criminal who had acted "in tandem" with others.

He described how Smyth operated as part of a criminal conspiracy, directed by others equally culpable – or more so .

He carried out surveillance and demonstrated a proficiency in using the pistol to hit James Gately five times.

Sentencing him to 20 years, the judge said that Smyth was only denied of the murder by luck and not want of skill.

After his sentence was passed, Smyth turned to family members in the courtroom and said: "Five World Cups, and I'll be out".

After sentencing, Smyth’s solicitor requested that he be placed in custody in Mountjoy Prison to be among his associates. From a promising boxing champion to a hitman for hire, Caolan Smyth now joins the countless other criminals serving lengthy jail terms after being convicted while carrying out the cartel’s bidding.

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