| 3.8°C Dublin

FACE-OFF The day I asked John 'The Coach' Traynor about his role in Veronica Guerin's murder

'Traynor was the ultimate bad guy... Scheming, conniving, dishonest and prepared to sell his soul to the highest bidder'

Close

John Traynor, who died last week, told John Gilligan of Veronica’s movements on the day she was shot dead

John Traynor, who died last week, told John Gilligan of Veronica’s movements on the day she was shot dead

John Traynor, who died last week, told John Gilligan of Veronica’s movements on the day she was shot dead

I'd never been to Margate before and I haven't been back since.

Once a famous holiday resort for well-heeled Londoners it is a town now haunted by its past and cluttered with rusting fairground rides, abandoned Victorian hotels and to-let signs on disused buildings. A town, you could say, that has fallen to progress and cheap foreign travel.

It was there in the summer of 2016 and in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the murder of Veronica Guerin, that I found myself looking for the 'one that got away'. John 'The Coach' Traynor had fled Ireland in the aftermath of the journalist's murder after he was identified as the person who told John Gilligan of Veronica's movements on the afternoon of June 26, 1996.

Veronica had unwittingly passed him the tidbit of information about her private life, never thinking it could have put in train a terrible series of events that would culminate in her murder at a red traffic light. Traynor was her 'tout', but like many criminals, he was playing both sides.

In the 20 years since her death 'The Coach' had settled first in The Netherlands, where he had set himself up as a drug trafficker, and then, by no choice of his own, in the UK, where he was returned to serve out a prison sentence he had skipped in the early 1990s.

In the seaside resort of Margate he had moved in with a girlfriend, I'd been told, but while he appeared down on his luck, police officers believed he was still in the game and still turning tricks.

He was desperate to keep his address a secret and when previously approached in the town by the Sunday World he had begged our reporter not to reveal his whereabouts, insisting that his life was under threat and he was really just an 'Ordinary Decent Criminal'.

Close

Traynor speaking to Veronica Guerin

Traynor speaking to Veronica Guerin

Traynor speaking to Veronica Guerin

 

My mission was simple, I wanted to ask him about his role in Guerin's murder and whether it weighed heavy on him 20 years on. While he had persistently claimed that the police had lied about him, I wondered would the passage of time soften his stance and would the guilt of what he had done somehow overcome him.

I mooched around the town a bit.

Online, there were reports that the locality was a hub of crime in the Kent area -but by the looks of things, it was home to a lot of down and outs and theirs was likely low level robbery or handbag snatches.

A lack of investment over decades had certainly left the place in need of a good scrub and an injection of some developer's gusto. I walked along the beach, which was still pretty, and from the pristine sands it was easy to see what the town once was.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

Outside the centre and into the suburbs I made my way to a small overcrowded street of terraced homes, most covered in plastic cladding which had clearly been in fashion at one time, until I found myself outside the address I had been told The Coach was now living.

The tiny garden was overgrown, the gate broken and rusting and the windows of the flat above the small front door were filthy and covered in yellowing net curtains.

It was a far cry from what Traynor had once dreamed of when he became a gangland 'fixer' for the likes of Martin 'the General' Cahill and later Gilligan. The Coach was clever and had chosen to forge a career in crime for the money he could make. He liked the image of himself tanned and in a Panama hat surrounded by bikini-clad models - but I'm sure he never dreamed he would end up in a working class English town.

I knocked on the door but there was no reply. I could hear the lull of a television set in the rooms above and I was almost sure I could hear a faint snore.

Close

The scene after Veronica Guerin's murder

The scene after Veronica Guerin's murder

The scene after Veronica Guerin's murder

 

Outside, cars were parked back to back on the narrow roadway, but there was just enough space nearby to pull up and wait.

There was no doubt but Traynor had many faces. He could mix in the criminal underworld but he also knew how to share information for his own benefit.

Information is power and The Coach was the master. He could be suave and charming, but those who knew him had told me that he also had a terrible temper, a penchant for gambling and prostitutes and that he hated women.

It's a peculiar relationship between a crime journalist and their tout.

There has to be some give and take and you can only hope that your instincts about who to trust prove right.

But The Coach was the ultimate bad guy - scheming, conniving, dishonest and prepared to sell his soul to the highest bidder. He may not have pulled the trigger, but it was he who had signed Veronica Guerin's death warrant and lied about it ever since.

He'd disappeared to Europe after her murder but showed up again in 2010 after a joint Dutch and UK operation against organised crime. It seemed his past had come back to haunt him.

Close

FACE-OFF... 1. John Traynor emerges from the car

FACE-OFF... 1. John Traynor emerges from the car

FACE-OFF... 1. John Traynor emerges from the car

 

He had been wanted in the UK since he went on the run in November 1992, just one year into a seven-year stretch for his role in a scam involving stolen bearer bonds in London.

At the time, he had been granted temporary release to return to Dublin to visit his wife Carole and their four children but never went back to the UK and had lived openly in Ireland until the murder.

In the Netherlands, his home on Brederode Estate in Amstelveen was just a few kilometres from Schipol Airport.

There, he had taken in another mobster. The notorious Peter 'Fatso' Mitchell was discovered to be staying there when Traynor was eventually hauled in.

Banged-up at Bijlmerbajes Prison, he claimed to be in ill health as he fought extradition proceedings to London, saying he had a terminal diagnosis and couldn't stay in prison.

But his protestations fell on deaf ears and he was extradited all the same to serve his time. During his incarceration, the Criminal Assets Bureau launched a major investigation into his wealth and secured a judgement against him for nearly €500,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties.

On his release, he remained in the UK below the radar until he'd been tracked down to Margate in 2013 by a Sunday World team. Outside that same address I pondered on Traynor.

While clever criminals don't show their wealth for fear it would be taken from them, it was clear that whatever money he once had was gone.

No doubt his love of casinos and slot machines had put paid to any savings and, now well into his sixties, he seemed well past his time as a drug dealer.

Close

He sees the Sunday World team waiting for him

He sees the Sunday World team waiting for him

He sees the Sunday World team waiting for him

 

For three days we sat outside that dingy flat and as the hours ticked by I wondered was he really living somewhere far more salubrious.

It was hot and the windows were open and there was the constant noise of a TV droning as the stained net curtains fluttered in the breeze.

Across the gate, a Nissan Qashqai car, its window left open and a hire purchase sticker on the back, never moved. We came and went so as not to draw too much attention before finally the Qashqai moved, the first sign of life from our quarry.

We pulled in and waited, hoping that we might catch a glimpse of The Coach. Finally, the burgundy red vehicle turned down the road towards the flat, a female driving and a burly man in the passenger seat. I waited until the car parked and the doors open before I started to approach.

"John, it's Nicola Tallant, can I have a word with you?" I called from behind.

Traynor was bent over, carrying some discount supermarket bags.

He turned to me and looked almost frightened, pushing ahead of his female companion towards the narrow doorway that led to their flat above. He tripped over his feet, his shopping fell and a sliced pan spilled out of a bag. He looked pathetic, panicked, old.

Close

Traynor and his female companion walk into the house

Traynor and his female companion walk into the house

Traynor and his female companion walk into the house

 

"You know it's Veronica's anniversary," I said. "Do you regret what you did?" I asked.

He turned around to look at me, his cheeks a high red and his forehead bathed in sweat. I hoped he wasn't going to have a heart attack in front of me.

On he went towards the safety of the property, pushing the woman with him and fumbling for keys.

Traynor looked like a broken man and I almost felt sorry for him as he desperately got the lock open and slammed the door to the flat.

Later I rang a contact. "He's in a bad way. He looks like he has lost everything," I said.

At the other end of the phone there was a long silence. "Don't go back," my contact said. "He would attack you in a second."

And then came the stories that I can never repeat about the charming exterior of the man with the dark heart, of the twisted chameleon hiding in different guises of a real life scorpion whose very nature made him sting the frog.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Top Videos





Privacy