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Life in danger Prison on alert after £20k bounty slapped on head of convicted killer James McVeigh

Inmates eye up chance to cash in on 'Maghaberry Christmas bonus' and take out murderer


James McVeigh

James McVeigh

James McVeigh

Jail chiefs in Maghaberry Prison are on high alert after a £20,000 bounty was slapped on the head of convicted killer James McVeigh.

And the bounty has been dubbed the 'Maghaberry Christmas bonus' with claims that banged-up criminals queuing up to make some easy cash.

McVeigh was handed a life sentence last week after pleading guilty to the cowardly and brutal murder of 50-year-old Lisburn drug dealer Paul Smyth.

McVeigh had gone to rob Smyth of a substantial stash of cocaine and cash on the orders of mid-Ulster crime lord Malcolm McKeown, who was gunned down by two months later.

Jailhouse sources have told the Sunday World Paul Smyth sold huge amounts of drugs for a notorious west Belfast crime family who now want to settle the score.


Maghaberry Prison

Maghaberry Prison

Maghaberry Prison


"They want to send out a message to anyone thinking they can kill their associates and take their drugs and get away with it," said a source.

"McVeigh is a dead man walking for what he did. He took over £80,000 worth of cocaine and a load of cash too.

"The west Belfast ones won't stand for that and they've just been waiting to see him convicted. Aside from losing their drugs and cash they lost one of their top dealers who made them a lot of money over the years.

"And on top of that Paul Smyth was a really good guy. He had a reputation for being really decent even though he made his living selling drugs."

Sources say 31-year-old McVeigh had been housed in Braid House but it's understood he has since been moved and prison bosses are concerned for his safety.

"There are plenty of people in Maghaberry who would like to cash in on the bounty on McVeigh's head. He's got a shocking reputation - there might even be people in there who'd like to harm him for free.

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"Everyone's talking about the 'Maghaberry Christmas bonus' - that's what they are calling the payment for murder to be committed.

"The prison has had too many prisoners pass away - they will not want to lose another inmate, so they'll be pulling out all the stops to protect him. There's talk someone may do it but try and make it look like an accidental overdose. It wouldn't be that hard."


Malcolm McKeown

Malcolm McKeown

Malcolm McKeown

James McVeigh was infamous for bragging to criminal pals about his violent crimes.

"He's a complete head-the-ball," said a former pal. "James loved to brag and boast about people he'd apparently killed.

"He wasn't exactly very professional so it's no surprise he was caught almost straight away. I'm guessing this is one murder he won't be bragging about because Paul Smyth was well thought of in the criminal world."

Paul Smyth was found dead in the living room of his home in Coulson Avenue, Lisburn, on June 23 2019.

McVeigh had blasted with a shotgun. It's understood he was high on drugs himself when he launched his attack.

It's been reported the gun was given to McVeigh by his crime lord boss Malcolm McKeown.


Paul Smyth

Paul Smyth

Paul Smyth


McKeown had a fearsome reputation for taxing drug dealers and executing those who refused to pay up.

However, it's understood McVeigh, known to have a short temper, was only supposed to rob Smyth but couldn't help himself and shot him dead from point-blank range.

Smyth was known to hardly ever leave his house and was viewed as a soft touch to rob.

McKeown was shot dead himself two months.

McVeigh was one of five people due to stand trial on charges arising from Smyth's murder and a second gun attack at a house on Mill Street in Lisburn that same month.

Last month, two men pleaded guilty to offences linked to the incidents, while a woman was acquitted on a charge of withholding information concerning an arrestable offence.

McVeigh and co-accused James Holmes were due to stand trial on charges including murdering Smyth and attempting to murder a couple whose Mill Street home was shot at.

McVeigh pleaded guilty to the murder and admitted possessing a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life, and of possessing a sawn-off shotgun and ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

A prosecution barrister told the judge four remaining counts against McVeigh - including attempting to murder the couple at Mill Street - would not go ahead.

After admitting the murder charge, McVeigh was told by the judge: "Having pleaded to the offence of murder, I am obliged by law to impose a sentence of life imprisonment on you.

"In due course I will set a date for a hearing in which I will set the minimum tariff you must serve before you can apply for release on licence."

Co-accused James Holmes, from Lawnmount Crescent in Lisburn, was also due to stand trial on six charges including murdering Smyth.

He was also rearraigned and pleaded guilty to three offences - possessing a sawn-off shotgun and ammunition in suspicious circumstances on June 25 2019, and two counts of attempted murder on June 23 2019 arising from the gun attack at Mill Street.

When these charges were put to Holmes, he replied "guilty" to all three.

A prosecutor informed the judge that the remaining charges against Holmes, including murdering Smyth, would not proceed.

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