Spanish police are set to run ballistics tests on a gun found during the arrest of John Gilligan to ascertain if it has any links to the Veronica Guerin murder.
Gardai have been informed of the find of the Colt Python, which is the same make and model of the weapon used to murder the journalist but say it would be extraordinary if Gilligan had held onto it so long.
Gilligan has been under investigation in Spain for running a street pill and marijuana smuggling racket into the UK and Ireland and is understood to have been supplying criminals in the West Dublin area with a network of dealers around Lucan along with a gang in the south coast of England.
Six members of his gang had been under surveillance for a number of months before police moved in earlier this week. It is understood they had been using the postal system to transport the tablets and hash from Alicante in Spain to Ireland and England.
Veronica Guerin was assassinated in June 1996 on the Naas road by members of John Gilligan’s gang. He was never convicted of her murder but served a lengthy sentence on drug charges which emerged from the murder probe.
This morning it emerged that Spanish police are to test the gun discovered in a garden of a Costa Blanca commercial premises thought to be a pub. Footage of the find, made using a metal detector, and Gilligan’s arrest have been released by Spanish police.
The National Police have not named Gilligan in their first statement on the detention but have identified him by linking him to the murder in a press statement and describing him as a convicted drugs smuggler sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2001.
Well-placed police sources in Spain also confirmed he was one of the six men arrested after an operation against a suspected drug smuggling gang which resulted in the gun discovery during court-authorised searches.
A spokesman for Spain’s National Police said: “National Police officers acting in cooperation with the Garda and UK’s National Crime Agency have taken out a gang of suspected drugs smugglers and intercepted four postal deliveries with four kilos of marijuana and 15,000 hypnotic pills.
“The detainees, allegedly led by an well-known Irish criminal, allegedly formed part of a violent gang of drugs and weapons traffickers and specialised in sending via post illegal merchandise from Spain to the UK and Ireland.”
Gardai in Ireland were informed of the find in the last number of days and have been liaising with their Spanish counterparts ever since.
However, they say that they will await the results of the ballistics tests on the gun before they get excited about the prospect of any breakthrough in the Guerin investigation.
A senior source said that while the gun is the same make and model it is a big jump to say it is the exact gun used.
"Nothing is impossible but it is a big step at the moment to say that it is the gun. The fact is that a gun has been found along with the Gilligan arrest and it is a similar gun to the one used in the Guerin murder. Whether that gun would be still in circulation at this point, 24 years later, is unlikely but we will await the tests,” the source said.
In a statement Spanish police said: “A revolver, of the same mark and model used in the assassination of an Irish journalist in Dublin in 1996, has also been found. Its possible link to that crime is being investigated.”
The police in a statement described the suspected gang leader as a “well-known Irish criminal who was sentenced in 2001 to 28 years in prison for smuggling large amounts of cannabis resin into Ireland.”
They added: “He did 17 years after appealing the sentence. Years later he was shot four times when he was in his brother’s house, although he managed to survive.
“Irish investigators linked his organisation to the murder to the killing of a journalist in 1996 on the outskirts of Dublin.
“She was shot by two individuals who had been following her on a motorbike.
“The gun found in Alicante as part of the investigation is a Colt Python, the same type of gun used to kill the journalist.
“Inquiries are taking place and the Spanish police are talking to counterparts in Ireland to try to establish if it is the same weapon."
Gilligan was acquitted of ordering Veronica Guerin's murder in 2001 but sentenced to 28 years for drugs smuggling.