Greedy trucker Guilty: Haulier trafficked money and drugs to and from Holland
‘King of the Road’ Thomas Maher allegedly planned to have trucker Ronan Hughes stabbed or severely beaten in jail as he awaited extradition proceedings to the UK for the manslaughter of 39 immigrant workers.
Maher and his wife Joanna had been arrested by police following the discovery of the bodies in the back of a refrigerated container truck in Essex – but were released without charge.
The haulage boss told officers that he had previously owned the container – driven by Armagh man Mo Robinson – but had sold it to a company in Co. Monaghan.
On Friday, Maher pleaded not guilty to conspiring to cause grievous bodily harm to Hughes between April 21 and 29 this year, but admitted a string of charges of transporting drugs and cash across Europe for crime gangs.
The Sunday World understands that Maher’s phones had been hacked as part of the massive Encrochat investigation as he tried to organise a severe stabbing or ‘hammering’ for Hughes in jail.
Hughes was arrested on the evening of April 20 at his home in Co. Monaghan on foot of a European Arrest Warrant and had fought his proposed extradition to the UK through the Irish High Court.
Last month, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter at the Old Bailey of the 39 victims.
Sources say information from the phone allowed prison authorities here avert any planned attack on the Monaghan haulier.
Maher insisted he had nothing to do with the deaths when he was arrested last October following the grim discovery. He said that the Scania container had been in wife Joanna’s name but that they had sold it a year previous – although it had remained registered in her name through a firm in Bulgaria, Today’s Movements Tomorrow.
However, brazen Maher had his transport network back on the road delivering drugs, guns and cash for criminal gangs within weeks of his arrest.
Officers say he would stop at nothing to keep the flow of cocaine, heroin and weapons flooding into Ireland, even though he was caught up in the investigation into the deaths that shocked the nation.
Maher, who worked as a transport ‘Mr Big’ for the Kinahan Cartel and other drug gangs in the UK and Ireland, was behind bars this weekend as his decade as ‘King of the Road’ came to an abrupt end.
His business had funded a lavish lifestyle which he and wife Joanne enjoyed in their €500,000 home, with his and hers Range Rovers, numerous sun holidays and nights out in fancy restaurants.
Locals in their plush neighbourhood of Warrington, Cheshire, in the north-west of England, believed the couple, with the white weekend sports car and oodles of cash, were simply successful business people.
He ran a transport company and she owned a hairdressing salon, which neighbours believed afforded them every luxury money could buy.
But behind the façade he was providing a vital component to organised crime gangs who were desperate to move their products through borders and overseas.
Maher was on the radar in Ireland before he left his native Offaly and disappeared to the UK, where he set up his transport company and immediately made it known he was willing to truck anything. Through a network of drivers across the UK and along the Irish border counties, he proceeded to grow into one of the most-trusted logistics men working for major mobs.
Police in the UK will continue to pick through a treasure trove of cars, property and other assets owned by Maher as he languishes behind bars.
A network linked to his operation remain under investigation, suspected of transporting everything from guns to humans into Europe.
National Crime Agency Deputy Director Craig Naylor said: “Maher was the logistics man for a number of crime groups and played a key role in an important criminal infrastructure.”
High-level phone hacking uncovered the extent of Maher’s logistics operations between the Netherlands and Ireland.
He was targeted under Operation Venetic, which was created as a direct response to the success of Dutch and French police hacking the Encrochat phone system – a favourite of organised criminals and one which has been used by the Kinahan crime organisation.
Messages untangled from the encrypted system suggested that Maher was also trying to organise to have Monaghan
trucker Ronan Hughes seriously injured as he faced extradition to the UK on charges relating to the container deaths.
Hughes has since pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of the tragic immigrants while Maher has denied trying to have him harmed.
Maher with an address of Wiltshire Close, Woolston, Warrington, pleaded guilty on Friday to drug-trafficking offences at Liverpool Crown Court, where a judge warned he was facing a substantial prison term.
He admitted four drug-trafficking and money-laundering offences involving conspiring to commit crime abroad involving Class A drugs and €900,000 cash. He will be sentenced on December 1.
He was previously arrested along with his wife in relation to the Essex container investigation. He told officers that he had owned the container, which was in his wife’s name, in which the 39 people died but said he had sold it.
Maher’s communications were monitored between April and June when he was discovered moving money and drugs between the Netherlands, the UK and Ireland.
In April this year he delivered at least 21 kilos of cocaine into Ireland. One consignment of 11 kilos was transported through Dunkirk and Dover until it landed near Donabate. The other 10 kilos also made its way to Dublin with messages suggesting he would get a cut of profits.
One of the charges related to transporting €305,000 to the Netherlands which netted him a commission. Three men are before the courts here in relation to a second charge of transporting cash.