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Crime Long Read: How Mafia godfather Thomas ‘Bomber' Kavanagh’s drugs empire was toppled

Sunday World Crime Long-Read special: The life and crimes of Bomber Kavanagh
Nicola Tallant

Investigations Editor Nicola Tallant traces the rise and fall of the notorious crime boss as she sits in a UK court hearing details of his multi-million euro drug trafficking operation.

"This case relates to the activity of an organised criminal gang based in the West Midlands during 2016 and 2017 and in particular to the importation of cocaine and cannabis to the UK from Mainland Europe.

“By way of background, in January 2017 An Garda Siochana (aka the Gardai, the national police service of the Republic of Ireland) made a number of arrests in Dublin, during which a significant quantity of firearms and Class A drugs were recovered in the associated searches of commercial and residential premises. Seized documentation identified a UK based freight transport company called Ebrex Ltd, and the consignee for shipped goods as a company called FAR Logistics, located at 3 Modular Court, Four Ashes Business Park, Wolverhampton. Enquiries with Ebrex led to the identification of these defendants, who operated from the FAR Logistics Wolverhampton premises and other locations in the West Midlands area of England.

“The investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) uncovered that drugs were being imported into the UK from mainland Europe concealed within items of machinery and delivered by legitimate transportation and logistics companies.

Once at their destination in the UK, the drugs would be removed and the machinery re-loaded with cash, which in turn was carried back to mainland Europe in payment for the drugs.”

I’m in Ipswich Crown Court where I am watching the takedown of the mighty Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh, a man who has been on my radar for decades and on the gardai’s wanted list for even longer.

The QC, Riel Karmy-Jones for the prosecution, has perfect English diction and she is telling the judge, Justice Martyn Levitt, what the Crown’s case against Kavanagh and his criminal lieutenants Gary Vickery and Daniel Canning is.

I’m sitting in the jury box of Ipswich Crown Court along with a handful of agency journalists who had been commissioned to report on the sentence hearing of the man who the National Crime Agency will later declare to be the mafia’s number one operative in Ireland and the UK.

There has been no jury and no trial, as each have pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to the charges of conspiring to import Class A and B drugs and to money laundering. Canning has also taken a rap sheet for having a weapon, a gun that was found in searches related to the investigation.

In the dock, behind a glass screen ‘Bomber’ is wearing a suit. His square jawed face is set sternly. To his right is Vickery and beside him, nearest me is Canning. As Ms Karmy-Jones QC continues to detail to the court the evidence the NCA has collected against them, it’s easy to see why they didn’t try to fight this case. They are nabbed, as good as caught red handed.

"On 2 October 2017 a consignment was intercepted in Dover, within which was found — 15 kilograms of cocaine (to the wholesale value of £480,000 and street value of £1,200,00) and 200 kilograms of cannabis (to the wholesale value of £1,000,000 and street value £2,000,000).

"The next day industrial premises linked to the importation were searched and amongst other paraphernalia consistent with the importation of drugs, a Smith & Wesson 357 revolver and two boxes containing a total of 85 rounds of .38 Wadd Cutter ammunition were recovered.

"The consignment on 2 October 2017 was the only consignment intercepted, however the NCA investigation did not stop there, continuing with a thorough analysis of a number of different strands of evidence including:

"Documentation and enquiries around the premises and delivery companies used by conspirators;

"Documentary evidence around the packaging and transportation of drugs (and cash);

Surveillance;

GPS tracking devices;

"And crucially, communications obtained from mobile devices used by the co-conspirators to facilitate the importations, including a PGP encrypted mobile telephone belonging to Canning

…Led to a further 22 importations, and these defendants being identified."

The standard of proof in law in criminal cases is incredibly high, in fact it is beyond reasonable doubt, so most accused will try their luck at convincing a jury that they might not be guilty. But before we go on, let me give you a little bit of background about main man in court today. About the feared and revered ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh.

He’s a Dubliner who hails from Drimnagh but he’s long gone out of Ireland. In fact, when the Criminal Assets Bureau was set up in 1996 after the brutal murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, he was the first target.

A known drug dealer and with a string of convictions, Bomber was then running a lucrative business along with his cousin Gerard ‘Hatchet’ Kavanagh.

They were dealing whatever they could get their hands on and making a pretty penny as a result. Hatchet would be shot dead in Marbella in 2014, a hit understood to have been sanctioned by Kavanagh and organised by his then business partner, Daniel Kinahan.

Bomber married his teenage sweetheart Joanne Byrne. Her brother David was the one who took a bullet meant for Daniel Kinahan at the Regency Hotel in February 2016 — the day that changed everything and which cemented a blood bond between Kinahan and Kavanagh that would set them in the sights of international law enforcement. But that bit of the story will come later.

For now, we just need to know that Bomber handed over his house to the Criminal Assets Bureau and left Ireland, on the face of it penniless, for a new life in the UK.

He settled in Birmingham where he set up a second hand car business — TK Motors — but he was doing far less legitimate things behind the scenes. All that was 20 years ago and a lot had happened since.

"The defendants here today:

"Gary Vickery is 39 years old (date of birth 3 January 1983). He has no previous convictions. His address is Solihull. He also owns a property in Spain. Daniel Canning is his brother in law.

"Daniel Canning is 43 years old (date of birth 18 September 1978). He has no previous convictions. His address is Solihull.

"Thomas Kavanagh is 54 years old (date of birth 10 September 1967). His recorded name on his PNC is Paul Christopher Harvey; Thomas Kavanagh is recorded as an alias name.

"He has 16 previous convictions dating back to 25 April 1985, including convictions in Ireland for burglary, possessing firearms and ammunition without a certificate, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

"He has convictions in the UK on 30 January 2017 for fraud and intent to defraud the public revenue for which he received a suspended custodial sentence. His most recent conviction in the UK is on 2 September 2019 for possession of a disguised firearm (stun gun) discovered during the search of his home address in connection with this prosecution, for which he received a three year custodial sentences. His address in Tamworth.

"It is the prosecution case, and it has been accepted by the defendants, that each defendant holds a ‘leading role’ in the organisation. Thomas Kavanagh sits at the head of the organisation, with Gary Vickery immediately beneath him and Daniel Kinahan is subordinate to Vickery.

"Others known to be involved.

"Martin Byrne was a business associate of the defendants. The evidence indicates that he was involved in the unloading of drugs and the insertion of cash into machinery used for transportation. A DNA sample from the extractor rod of the firearm which is the subject of count 4 produced a match to Martin Byrne. He occupied a position on a similar level to Canning but Byrne is deceased, having died on 5 August 2018 of lung cancer.

"Emanuel Rosenzweig, also known as Nikolaj Wall, is a German national. Rosenzweig/Wall played a key role in facilitating the importations from mainland Europe. It is notable that Kavanagh had contact with Wall during the indictment period on 24 June 2017. The German authorities have indicated that they are conducting their own investigations into Mr Wall and he is currently in custody in Germany.

"Z is a Polish national and associate of the defendants. During the indictment period he owned an industrial unit in Barcelona, Spain, which was used in the operation, and was the individual who initially received 10 GPS trackers in August 2017, purchased in Poland and used by the defendants to track the movement of deliveries. His current whereabouts are unknown."

I wondered what had happened to Z and if he was still out there, floating around the criminal underworld or if he had been the fall guy for the bust. In gangland there is always a fall-guy, there is always someone who takes the blame.

Bomber Kavanagh had never been slow to point the finger at anyone who disobeyed or who was deemed disloyal to him. Over the years, he had turned on friends and foe in equal measures of violence and cruelty.

The fear he instilled in others was his greatest power and Bomber had finely tuned his theatre of terror. Standing at over six foot he rarely smiled and he carried himself as a true mafia godfather.

Those who worked with him knew to only speak when addressed and to always be on their guard against the ferocious temper that welled inside him. When the powerful fists came they showed no mercy, and only the dumbest would try to intervene.

Humiliation was generously doled out in orders to do menial jobs on the grounds of his stately Tamworth mansion in the heart of Birmingham’s premiership belt, or in a trip to A & E for those seen to have stepped out of line.

He had an arsenal of weapons and was never slow to use them, to kneecap or terrorise those who disobeyed his orders. He wasn’t just a mob boss, he was a godfather feared and revered in equal measures by an army of men who wanted a place in his family. No one ever challenged his position and all were happy to serve.

Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh

Thomas 'Bomber' Kavanagh

For Bomber, the business of understanding fear was as important as the cost of a kilo of cocaine and he studied the psychology of it with gusto. He liked to pass his knowledge down the lines so his underlings could hold their own.

During his coaching sessions he would describe the ‘states of fear’ of human beings and how to reach them. A thin line existed, he explained, between controlling someone and making them so frightened they became paralysed and useless.

Threats, torture and beatings were all used to exert power and control and, most importantly, so everyone should know their place.

In Ireland and the UK he had a clear structure under him, with each lieutenant having a detailed role and responsibility for logistics, weapons, drug trafficking or enforcement.

Failures in any areas resulted in severe punishments. He had chauffeurs, minders and even outriders and spotters to protect him as he moved about.

Everyone within his ranks was controlled with violence, and even more mature lieutenants, including former car dealer Lee Cullen and notorious Graham ‘The Wig’ Whelan, were regularly beaten for digressions. Cullen was so savagely beaten a number of times, once with a wheel brace, that he was admitted to hospital with his injuries.

The aforementioned, Hatchet Kavanagh, his cousin, felt the full wrath of Bomber when he was shot dead at Harmon’s bar by a masked hitman. The reasons for his murder are murky but it is believed that Daniel Kinahan convinced Bomber that Hatchet was plotting to kidnap one of his children and hold them for ransom.

It doesn’t make much sense. Hatchet was making a fortune on the Costa working as a fixer and debt collector. He wouldn’t have needed the £1million and kidnap is about the highest risk crime anyone can commit. Still, Bomber believed the tale and Hatchet got a bullet in the head.

Seeing him in the dock was extraordinary after such a long career at the top of the underworld. He’d escaped this fate before a number of times. In 2019, his former business partner James Mulvey, another of his cousins, was jailed during a trial in Birmingham when the details of their multi-million euro business was heard.

James Mulvey being arrested at gunpoint by Lithuanian special forces in 2017

James Mulvey being arrested at gunpoint by Lithuanian special forces in 2017

Mulvey masterminded the importation of €75 million worth of cocaine and cannabis from Holland into Ireland via the UK, his sentence hearing was told. But everyone knew that Bomber was the real boss — and that he had slipped the net. Following Mulvey’s sentencing the NCA said that their investigation into his finances and related matters remained under active investigation.

"The defendants used the names of three companies as cover for the operation:

"FAR Logistics, at Unit 3, Modular Court Wolverhampton;

"MD Distribution, registered also at Unit 3, Modular Court, Wolverhampton;

"RWD Development at Unit 16, Red Mill Trading Estate, Wednesbury.

"Companies House searches show no evidence of legitimate trading businesses under the names of any of these companies at the respective addresses. Far Logistics is a registered company, but its managing director has confirmed that it has never operated from Unit 3. And although there were signs outside Unit 3 for ‘MB Distribution’, there is no such registered business at the address.

"Ebrex (UK) Ltd already mentioned, is a legitimate transportation and logistics company, based in Staffordshire. Ebrex was contracted by FAR Logistics, MB Distribution and RWD Development to deliver a number of loads from mainland Europe to Unit 3 and Unit 16 between November 2016 and October 2017.

"For each consignment the consignor details were: Emanuel Rosenzweig, at an address in Romania. All of these consignments were palletised goods described as ‘machine parts’ of different weights. The goods would be unloaded and checked off the manifest when the lorries arrived and the consignees would then be contacted and advised that the consignments were ready for collection.

"One of the contact numbers that Ebrex had was for Martin Byrne.

"Ebrex subcontracted the transportation of the deliveries from mainland Europe to a German company called Ziegler, which made regular deliveries to Ebrex twice a week, using lorries travelling through

"Germany to the Ebrex UK warehouse in Burntwood. Rosenzweig had been a customer of Ziegler since 2014. The last transport operation for Emanuel Rosenzweig was on Friday, 29 September 2017.

"In short, the transportation of the drugs across mainland Europe, which were destined for Unit 3 and Unit 16, were largely managed by Rosenzweig.

"As indicated, Emanuel Rosenzweig is an alias for Nikolaj Wall. Kavanagh had significant contact with Wall during the indictment period as will be addressed in further detail."

I listened intently to the details of the operation. The transport of the drugs across Europe was a slick machine and used both legitimate and shadow companies, with many having no clue that they were delivering anything other than ordinary machine parts. It was the same type of operation that had seen Mulvey and others jailed before but simply with different people in the new roles.

I glanced across the courtroom to a cluster of seats dedicated to a small group of relatives.

In one was Joanne, Bomber’s wife flanked by two of their sons. Beside her was Nicola Connor, the wife of Gary Vickery, who had returned from Lanzarote where I had recently detailed their luxury villa and boat hire business which included a Sunseeker Quantum, the boat made famous by James Bond. It would be fair to say she wasn’t too pleased to see me.

As wives of the men listed number one and two in the Kinahan mafia’s UK arm they had lived a life of luxury in huge houses and with private holiday villas. Joanne had married Bomber when he was just starting out in the drugs game but she’d done well and in 2015 I’d visited her huge, gated mansion in Tamworth.

There I had watched the couple come and go in his and hers Range Rovers, I’d seen the gardeners and cleaning staff. Holidays were spent in Mexico, Dubai and in their summer home in Majorca where they partied every August with associates from the criminal underworld.

Joanne had spent her 40th birthday in Las Vegas with a huge group of girl pals, all expenses paid courtesy of her adoring husband.

Nicola Connor was originally from Dublin but had lived in Shirley in the West Midlands with Vickery. After his initial arrest the pair had moved full time to Lanzarote where they’d pitched up in a vast villa complete with a private pool, a BMW X5 and a Range Rover.

They’d registered a holiday rental company and advertised pleasure yachts for hire on social media. They were regulars around the Puerto Calera harbour area where he claimed he’d made his fortune importing second hand Japanese cars into Ireland.

As the details of the NCA’s Operation Hornstay were given to the court, Joanne and Nicola listened intently. If they had ever wondered where it had all come from and if their partners had convinced them they had made millions flogging second hand cars, they could no longer be under any illusion of what had feathered their nests.

In front of me on a table sat the book of evidence, a hugely detailed document from which Ms Karmy-Jones QC was reading to Judge Levett, a tall thin man with a kindly face.

"In the afternoon of 2 October 2017, customs officials on duty at the Import Freight Examination Area, Easter Docks, Dover, seized a consignment. The load was being transported by a Polish driver working for transporters AGMA. The note of the consignment stated that it came from Romania. The driver said: “I loaded it at Ziegler.”

"The load contained two large tarmac removal machines which were examined that same evening by customs officials. The officials dismantled the machines casing, removing a series of 32-millimetre nuts from the sides.

"The machinery had been specifically altered to store and conceal drugs. Inside the interior cavity of the first machine was 200 packages of herbal cannabis, with plastic wrappings endorsed ‘Rolex’. Inside the second machine was also 200 packages of herbal cannabis, with plastic wrappings endorsed ‘Manchester United’. In addition the second machine contained 15 green blocks containing cocaine and endorsed ‘54’.

"Also found inside the second machine was a black box magnetically attached to the inner wall containing a GPS tracking device. This had F1 etched on it. A white ‘Virgin’ sim card was recovered in the side of the black boxed device.

"The industrial premises identified as used by the relevant companies were searched by NCA officers the day after the Dover seizure, on the 3rd October 2017.

"Unit 16 RDW Development at Red Mill Trading Estate, Rigby Street was found to have been leased to Daniel Canning since 16th February 2016."

The date jumped out at me and told the true story of why Bomber Kavanagh had reached the very top of his criminal career.

It showed that his operation was preparing for massive shipments from Europe just one day after the funeral of his brother-in-law David, whose murder was to unleash a horror backlash by the Kinahan mob against the rivals who’d tried to take them on.

Twenty-four hours after the family godfather had stood in mourning at St Nicholas and Myra Church on Frances Street in Dublin, flanked by his overlord Daniel Kinahan, his lieutenant Canning had leased the premises in the UK where the drugs and guns would be delivered for transport across England and Ireland.

David Byrne

David Byrne

They were terrible times in Dublin. In the days before Byrne’s funeral, rumours had abounded in criminal circles that rocket launchers were coming out, such was the threat level since the Regency Hotel shooting after which Eddie Hutch had been swiftly assassinated in direct retaliation.

Sniffer dogs had been brought in to the church to make sure no such horror would play out, but the Byrne family and Bomber weren’t worried — instead they were planning a grotesque show to strike terror into the nation and show their enemies just who they had messed with.

On the day, they held the equivalent of a State funeral to mark the passing of the youngest Byrne, the baby of the family and the adored madcap who friends said was the life and soul of the party.

Rows and rows of young men had gathered in matching uniforms; black suits, pale blue shirts and black ties, the colours of the Kinahan mob and specially purchased for the occasion. They had lined up behind the mourning party surrounding Bomber Kavanagh in an ordered line.

Amidst the theatrics of the funeral the Kinahan mob had made their first mistake by showing their dark heart. Daniel Kinahan, wearing a flat cap had stood front and centre behind the coffin of his fallen comrade and shoulder to shoulder with Bomber.

Bonded in death, they wanted to show they were a force to be reckoned with and that there would be repercussions. Freddie Thompson was there too.

He is in jail now, serving a life sentence for the murder of Daithi Douglas, one of 18 to die in the months and years to come. In the background were two men unknown at that point to many.

Declan ‘Mr Nobody’ Brady and Sean Ruth were Bomber’s secret weapons, but their day would come too.

"In the left corner of the unit was a wooden crate which contained a large transformer that had been adapted for internal concealment. Hidden within that transformer was a large black holdall bag.

"This was found to contain a Smith & Wesson 357 revolver and two boxes containing a total of 85 rounds of .38 Wadd Cutter ammunition. The firearm and ammunition were later tested and fired to confirm that these were live rounds and that the firearm was functioning.

"A wet and dry swab was taken from the top of the transformer unit and was subsequently analysed for DNA. This was matched to the DNA profile of Daniel Canning, such that the DNA must have come from him.

"A swab was also taken of the extractor rod of the firearm. This showed that the DNA result originated from Martin Byrne and three unknown individuals. In the opinion of the expert, Martin Byrne could be the most substantial contributor of DNA to the result.

"The transformer itself was later examined and was found to have been lined with lead. It had originally been manufactured and purchased from a German company, based in Monchengladbach.

"Its inner core, which would originally be immersed in oil, had then been removed, together with any residual oil and the lead lining added as a means of avoiding detection. The transformer had also been recently spray painted on the side and top.

"A number of other items were seized from Unit 16, amongst them nine further magnetic black GPS tracking devices and various sim push-out cards."

The NCA had clearly left no stone unturned and the evidence being read to the court was intricate and detailed.

I flicked forward through Bundle ‘A’; the giant evidence file, surveillance details and pictures of drugs, guns and the inside of the homes of Kavanagh and his co-accused.

A copy had been handed to the trio in the dock but theirs had to have the staples taken out of the pages and the steel clamps on the files removed first.

The language, the methods and the details of their enormous criminal empire which turned them into multi-millionaires were laid bare in the pages.

A family tree style poster with a picture of the infamous ‘Bomber’ at the top was included with a line going downwards to Vickery, then further down to Canning and across to the deceased Byrne, the un-named Polish man, last pinged on a GP tracker in Dublin, and Nikolaj Wall described as the man who oversaw the drug operation on mainland Europe for the gang.

At the home of Gary Vickery in Shirley the following items of note were seized; Substantial amounts of cash, including quantities of British notes and Scottish notes as well as 15 separate cash exhibits.

The majority of cash was found hidden in bags in the built-in wardrobe of the master bedroom comprising four wrapped bundles. Each bundle contained approximately £50,000, totalling £198,430.

Various mobile phones, including; two black Nokia mobile phones, a rose gold coloured iPhone, two BQ Aquaris mobile phones and a black BQ smartphone as well as a variety of sim cards. One of the phones recovered was a BQ Aquarius X dual sim encrypted handset containing a Dutch sim card.

Two ‘Legend Electric’ GPS tracker instruction sheets. This company has a website address spyshop.co.uk and Spy Shop business car was also found in the property. The instruction sheets gave details as to how to log in and locate the GPS trackers.

I knew the Kinahan mob were very fond of tracking devices and had used them to carry out a number of assassinations and would-be hits. Gardai had warned members of rival mobs and journalists to check their cars for such devices at the height of the Kinahan and Hutch feud in 2016 and when Noel ‘Duck Egg’ Kirwan was murdered in December of that year, one was found attached to his car.

Jason Keating would later be jailed for his role in the murder, which centred on the device being placed under the car in the weeks leading up to the shooting.

Bomber’s men, Peadar Keating, jailed for directing a plot to kill James ‘Mago’ Gately, and his sidekick Douglas Glynn were both found to have used a tracker device to hunt their would-be victim a year later.

Further tracking devices were found at Byrne's home, Ms Karmy Jones said, and in Canning’s a PGP encrypted phone, the password of which was cracked by NCA officers with a combination of his children’s names.

The trackers were being used to follow the drugs and then the money should anyone try to claim it had gone missing along the way. A useful tool for the gang, they had also proved useful in the hands of law enforcement.

The evidence went on to hear how the NCA had analysed the tracker found concealed in the machinery at Dover and found it activated in Poland and first moved to Dublin to the vicinity of the home of Z.

It then travelled to Birmingham and on to the home of Vickery. From there it moved to Birmingham airport before transferring to Unit 16 where it stayed for 11 days. From there it travelled from Dover to Calais and on to Belgium to GOBO Logistics.

The next day it was on the move again to Holland where it remained steady for eight days before it returned to GOBO then on to Germany to Ziegler. On September 30, as the NCA lay in wait, it departed Germany and made its way through Europe and from Calais to Dover where the load was picked up.

"Through a careful and detailed analysis of transportation evidence, communications evidence, evidence of Canning’s air and other travel during the relevant period and evidence obtained from CCTV positioned outside Unit 16 ….the NCA identified 23 separate importations between 28th October, 2016 and 2 October 2017, from Europe, transported by Ziegler/Ebrex destined for Unit 3 and Unit 16. In addition, there were a number of consignments collected from the units, and delivered to mainland Europe.

"As indicated, a number of mobile telephones were seized during the searches. Gary Vickery had six relevant telephone numbers and one email address. Daniel Canning had three telephone numbers and one email address. Thomas Kavanagh had eight telephone numbers and one email address. Martin Byrne had one mobile number.

"Analysis of these devices revealed that the parties went by nicknames. Gary Vickery was called ‘Jelly’. Daniel Canning went by ‘Smiley’. Thomas Kavanagh’s number was saved by others on devices under the names ‘Plasma’, ‘Plasma New 2’ and he was referred to in the communications as Gaffer or ‘The Gaffer.’ Martin Byrne was known as ‘Scissors’ or ‘Grumpy.’ Gary Vickery’s brother also appears in the messages and went by the nickname ‘Shaggy’.

"Expert analysis of the messages also identified that the defendants used codewords in their communications to refer to (for example) drugs, money. Locations, types of machinery and individuals.

In respect of drugs;

‘jackets’ = packages of flowering head cannabis

‘Phones’ = kg blocks of cocaine’

‘Ricky’ – cocaine

‘tnt’ – kg blocks of cocaine

‘hilfigs’ – kg blocks of cocaine

‘paper’ – cash

‘the hot’ – Spain

‘the flat’ – Netherlands

"The first shipment we are concerned with was sent from Ziegler to FAR Logistics on 28th October. On 10 November 2016, Vickery appears to be in New York as is evidence from the nature of the messages sent to his wife. That day he sent her a WhatsApp message showing a photograph of a group of men, including himself and Kavanagh, gathering in apparent celebration with the message ‘Haha this is worth the money.” The person in the foreground is Thomas Kavanagh.

"He then sent a further message, saying that Vickery’s brother had been told by the ‘gaffer’ to calm down."

I flicked forward to the picture in the file. In it I recognised James ‘Jaws’ Byrne, the father of David, and Declan Brady, the man at the back of the funeral now known as Mr Nobody. Since Canning had taken the lease on the industrial premises, Bomber had plotted the complex import/export plan, set up shadow companies and found time to kill.

The dates detailed in the file were significant and gave a snapshot into his world. By November when he celebrated in New York, there were seven men dead in retaliation for the Regency attack; Eddie Hutch, Noel Duggan, homeless man Martin O’Rourke, Michael Barr, Gareth Hutch, David Douglas and tourist Trevor O’Neill.

Of those, Bomber was understood to have had a direct role in the two which were both cases of mistaken identity.

Martin O’Rourke was due into rehab and hoping to start a new life when he was shot dead by a hapless hitman who made his escape on a bike after missing his actual target. The Kavanaghs were enjoying their annual August break in Majorca when the same hitman was flown on to the island after Peadar Keating had randomly spotted Jonathan Hutch arrive for a family holiday.

The gunman, Glen Clarke, who would later die after shooting himself, shot council worker Trevor O’Neill in front of his terrified wife and three children when he stumbled and Hutch escaped.

"On 13 September 2017, Canning flew back from Barcelona to Birmingham. On 14 September at 08.37 CCTV footage shows Canning arriving at Unit 16 in a silver Mercedes which drops him off and then leaves.

"He unlocks the door and at approximately 11.27 is seen exiting Unit 16 driving a yellow forklift truck with nothing on it. A few minutes later he is seen driving back to Unit 16 carrying a large wooden box crate approximately 5 feet by 5 feet on the yellow forklift truck.

"At 11.58 another individual arrives at Unit 16 driving a Ford Focus car, Daniel Canning is seen to exit Unit 16 and return driving a white Mitsubishi truck.

"The large wooden box crate is then loaded on this Mitsubishi truck by Daniel Canning. He then locks Unit 16 and drives off in the Mitsubishi truck while the other individual departs in the Ford Focus.

"At 19.14 the Mitsubishi truck returns to Unit 16, with Daniel Canning driving. In the passenger seat is an unidentified white male with grey hair and wearing glasses. Daniel Canning is then seen to use a forklift truck to unload a palleted load of approximately 5 feet by 4 feet shrink wrapped in light coloured plastic sheeting and with what appears to be a dome top — this matches the appearance of the consignment seized at Dover on 2nd October, containing the drugs.

Both males depart in the Mitsubishi truck. About an hour later, Daniel Canning returns in the Mitsubishi truck, drives it inside Unit 16 and departs in his silver Mercedes estate car.

"The following exchange was obtained from the Canning Blackberry at around the same time.

"Jelly New – How yis getting on.

"Smiley – Loading last benz."

Shipment 21 arrived on September 18 in the form of two items of machinery from Ziegler. On the same date there was an email from Kavanagh to Vickery: “Collect ahern’s and take paper out to give 2 lad… Hopefully den following week he b doon his truck work and get going.”

Vickery forwarded it to Canning. Later Kavanagh wrote: “Just get him 2 say he been told he not 2 move until all is in order ‘full stop’ all suppose to be ready 3 week ago.”

Canning is in Barcelona, but from the exchanges it is clear he is frustrated and cannot locate the person he is supposed to meet. Mostly Vickery passes messages on to Canning, but this time Kavanagh gets frustrated and contacts him direct.

Preparation for the next shipment begins almost immediately and Canning takes another flight to Barcelona.

In the early morning of 27 September 2017 Kavanagh and Canning corresponded directly by email with Kavanagh asking ‘did u c lad.?’

Canning reporting back both direct to Kavanagh and then to Vickery, and Kavanagh then praising him and giving further instructions.

There is then a discussion with Vickery about quantities. It appears he wanted to know what was going on, because again he corresponded with Canning directly with two question marks.

Kavanagh then directs Canning as to his next steps saying: ‘Jelly would be on in a couple of hours and that he did not want to disturb his beauty sleep.’

To which Canning replies: ‘Ha. I have had him up since 7.’ The following exchange between Canning and Vickery reinforces the relationships between the parties with Vickery referring to Kavanagh’s promise to let him have a lie-in and calling him ‘Gaffer’. On 28th September the last shipment is prepared and there are a flurry of exchanges. One from Vickery to Canning reads: “Think were full steam now gaffer seems in great form.”

"On September 30 tracking device F1 departs from Ziegler in Germany and a few hours later Canning flies back from Barcelona to Birmingham.

"The next day, 1 October 2017, Canning can be seen on CCTV arriving at Unit 16 in the evening in the silver Mercedes and entering carrying a white package, approximately 1 foot by 1 foot. He then departs in the white Mitsubishi truck, leaving the silver Mercedes parked there.

"There is conversation between Canning and Vickery throughout this period, and into the 2nd October not included in the Sequence of Events Schedule.

"This includes Vickery saying’ ‘Ways crack how u getting on ur gonna head out this evening in truck. Benz are delayed and he doesn’t wat yo delay things any further.’ Canning gives an update as to how far he is from his destination.

"On 2nd October Canning drives a white half ton truck to a farm in Somerset and buys with cash farm machinery, which he tells the owner he plans to take to Spain for re-sale.

"He returns to Unit 16 in the evening in the Mitsubishi truck and uses a forklift truck to unload a quantity of farm machinery. He then loads this on to a green lorry with an Irish registration plate, which he had manoeuvred into place earlier.

"At approx. 19.30 two unidentified males arrive outside Unit 16 in a grey Land Rover Discovery and meet with Canning. They remain for about an hour taking items from the boot of the car into Unit 16 before departing.

"At approx. 22.53 Canning departs in the silver Mercedes having locked Unit 16. On October 2 the consignment was intercepted at Dover and found to contain cocaine and cannabis.

"The Sequence of Events document show the events that took place thereafter, including the arrests of Martin Byrne, Daniel Canning, Vickery’s wife and a final series of telephone calls from Kavanagh to Vickery."

Before 7am that morning the arrests took place of Martin Byrne, Daniel Canning and Vickery’s wife Nicola Connor. Vickery isn’t home and as the others remain in custody he goes to ground. Late that night calls are recorded from Kavanagh to Vickery’s phone.

The voice calls are short, three in total and none longer than four minutes. An hour after the chats, before 1am, Vickery is picked up at the Holiday Inn Express in Tamworth. But Bomber sits tight and nobody knocks his door.

Earlier at Bourneville Lane Police Station Canning tells police he’s no knowledge about importing drugs and isn’t involved in any conspiracy. He tells officers he has just started a new job as a long distance truck driver and has never heard of Ebrex.

When shown a photo of Gary Vickery, he says he is his brother-in-law and that they live just five minutes from one another. They had many fall outs over the years, he says, but they like to fix up cars together. He doesn’t know Martin Byrne, he claims, but says he looks familiar.

When asked what he was doing in Unit 16 on 14 September he says he was probably playing with a car or the forklift truck. He’s sublet the unit to two Polish men, he says, when he couldn’t afford the rent and they keep vehicles there.

Everything found in the unit, he told officers, must be theirs but he could have touched things when he visited.

The £1,500 found in cash at his home was from selling items and another £1,000 found in his wife Vicky’s handbag in the hallway of their home was a gift for her to spend. He knew nothing of the iPhone found in his car or a Blackberry which he claimed he’d found two weeks ago near where he parked.

Money in his bedroom had been the result of car sales but he had no receipts.

During his first interview at Burton on Trent Police Station, Vickery said he knew nothing about drugs, a firearm and answered no comment to questions asked. In the presence of his solicitor during a second interview, he gave officers a prepared statement.

In it he said he knew Canning and Byrne but he insisted that the money, almost £200,000 found in his home, was savings that he earned through his car dealing business over 15 years. He knew nothing of tracking devices, a handgun or anything about Unit 16.

He hadn’t heard of Ebrex and couldn’t recall meeting anyone at the Arden Hotel by Birmingham Airport or removing a bag from a Ford Transit van there.

Both men were released without charge as the NCA investigation got underway in earnest, forensically examining the communications, tracking devices and transport routes as well as the items found during the searches.

In Tamworth, Bomber Kavanagh sat tight. 2017 had been a terrible year and everything had started to go wrong. The pressure being put on his cell structures in Ireland had come to a head when gardai had burst into his weapons HQ at Greenogue Industrial Estate just as he’d landed an arsenal of guns for use against the Hutch faction who’d taken him and Kinahan on at the Regency.

Declan Brady, 'Mr Nobody'

Declan Brady, 'Mr Nobody'

Brady had been arrested along with three other key members of his operation. Brady had been his Mr Nobody for years but as soon as he was nabbed everyone was talking about him. For years he’d hidden in plain sight as a neighbour and businessman who nobody had cared to consider was anything other than ordinary.

Five of the 15 guns discovered that day were primed and ready for distribution to gunmen for immediate use in feud attacks and 10 more were individually wrapped in plastic. It was a big haul to lose and Brady, Sean Ruth, Jonathan Harding and James Walsh had all been charged before the courts.

The following April, even worse had befallen his outfit in Ireland when the Estonian hitman Imre Arakas had been arrested during a plot to kill James ‘Mago’ Gately. Phones had been seized during the arrest and a number of his top men had gone to jail for their involvement in the logistics.

Sean McGovern

Sean McGovern

To make matters worse, Bomber had no Sean McGovern to rely on as he had been forced to flee to Dubai after the murder of Noel ‘Duck Egg’ Kirwan the previous December, sure he was going to be arrested in relation to it. And his brother-in-law Liam had been forced to leave Dublin too after the Criminal Assets Bureau went after his home and his possessions.

For months Bomber had watched and waited expecting to be picked up by the NCA for his role in the drug importation bust but they didn’t come. He was clever enough to know he couldn’t organise any more hits from his base in Birmingham, such was the pressure on both sides of the Irish sea, but he did see an opportunity in 2018 when a volatile criminal from Ballymun became hungry to avenge the murder of a relative which he blamed on members of the Hutch faction.

Liam Byrne

Liam Byrne

By Christmas, Bomber was feeling confident again. He seemed to have got away with the drugs in Dover and despite the arrests the NCA hadn’t come back near Vickery or Canning. Undoubtedly they had nabbed one load and traced it back to the premises at Unit 16 but he gathered that the investigation had fallen flat and they had nothing on him or the others. He booked a holiday to Mexico and decided he’d put his troubles behind him and enjoy some sun and relaxation with the family.

"At approximately 08.50 hours on 12 January 2019 Thomas Kavanagh was arrested at Birmingham Airport. The following items were seized;

"Cash from his person and suitcase in the sums of £500, E340 and £3414.

"An iPhone in a black cover found in a bag.

"A BQ mobile phone case in his pocket.

"Officers conducted a search of his address at his home on the same date. In addition to being a gated property, significant security alterations had been made to it. The doors and glass of the ground floor were heavily reinforced and of ‘bullet proof’ construction.

"The following items of note were seized;

"£8000 in cash found behind the cushions of a couch.

"£3,787 and E1,650 from a chest of drawers.

"A further bundle of Arab Emirates dirhams was found tied in an elastic band amounting to approximately £9,000.

"An additional E11,480 and £1,780 were found in seven handbags within the property.

"In total, therefore approximately £33,900, E13,600 and $3,4000 were found on Kavanagh’s person and property.

"Also found were multiple mobile phones and various documentation including receipts.

"Kavanagh was interviewed on 12 January 2019 and asked questions around his association with a number of individuals of interest, including Vickery, Canning and Byrne, Emmanuel Rosenzweig and various addresses.

"He was also asked about a gathering of these individuals at the Hyatt Hotel in December 2016, which Vickery had attended and indeed booked, about telephone contact with Vickery and various telephone numbers.

"He largely declined to answer questions on the basis that he had not had sufficient time to consult with his legal representative."

As Kavanagh was being questioned, the search was continuing in Tamworth at his vast property. Among a series of up to 30 weapons found, many of which were under his bed, was a curious pink item which initially looked like a torch but which turned out to be an illegal 10,000 volt stun gun.

For police it meant they had a chance to get him into custody as they continued the enormous trawl of documentation and forensics in the drugs case. While he was released without charge, a case was brought against him in relation to the weapon and a trial was set for July, 2019.

Stoke on Trent Crown Court then heard that Kavanagh claimed the gun had been bought by one of his sons during a school trip to China but that he had confiscated it. But his story didn’t wash and Judge Paul Glenn told him the law was clear and that stun guns were prohibited.

Locked up: Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh and weapons discovered during a police search of his luxury home in the UK. Photo: NCA/PA Wire

Locked up: Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh and weapons discovered during a police search of his luxury home in the UK. Photo: NCA/PA Wire

Kavanagh faced five years but the judge said he’d good qualities and while having a criminal record of ‘enormous concern’ up until 2001, he had since ‘made strides’ to put his past behind him.

Justice Glenn said Kavanagh, a father of six, had a significant criminal career in the past but said there was a gap until he was handed a 16-year suspended sentence for tax fraud offences in 2017 for failing to declare taxable income and supplying fake payslips to secure a mortgage.

"On 28 November 2019 Kavanagh provided a prepared statement via his legal representatives ahead of a scheduled further interview on 10 December 2019.

"This statement purported to provide answers to a number of questions put during his first interview. In that, he declined knowing Canning, Byrne and Rosenzweig.

"He said he knew Vickery through the car trade, both having sold cars to a company in Dubai, and that Vickery had bought a Range Rover from him. He denied any criminal contact with him.

"He denied knowing any of the companies mentioned to him but accepted being at the Hyatt Hilton to celebrate his father’s 83rd birthday. Vickery had made the booking. He said all his means of expenditure arose from legitimate income from dealing in cars.

"During his interview on 10 December 2019 his legal representatives read out a further prepared statement on Kavanagh’s behalf, which dealt with the sequence of events following his client’s arrest, disclosure and indicated that he had advised Kavanagh that he should not answer questions but would ‘reflect upon them and then give you any appropriate answers in due course’."

What the court in Ipswich didn’t hear was that the stark realisation hit Bomber that he wasn’t getting away this time. From the questions put to him during arrest he knew there were texts and email and that he had been placed at the very top of the drugs structure.

He knew that it wasn’t only the one seizure that was at stake but an enormous 22 shipments that would have amounted to anything from £15-£20 million worth of drugs. He was facing a huge sentence — anything up to 25 years and the mighty Bomber had crumbled and had to be treated by a medic.

It was a joint operation, he was told, by the gardai and the NCA and the wealth of evidence was as merciless as his own decisions in the past.

He’d aligned with Daniel Kinahan to avenge the death of his brother-in-law and to lay a marker about their power. Kinahan had run to Dubai but he’d stayed put to carry out the cruelties that were never enough to whet the appetite of the men at the top.

Like chess players they had decided who would live and who would die, and as his empire crumbed he could see his mistakes — he’d got too emotionally involved.

He wondered if there was more to come. If it was possible that he had been linked to any of the seven murders and attempted assassinations that he’d planned. And he wondered when he’d see home again.

"In summary, Vickery and Canning having been arrested on 3 October 2017 appeared at Cannock Magistrates Court on 10 January 2020; Canning indicated not guilty pleas to all matters in respect of the drugs and money laundering counts. Vickery indicated TBC.

"Kavanagh, having been arrested on 12 January 2019, first appeared at Stafford Magistrates Court on 27 March 2020 where he gave no indication in respect of pleas. He was sent to Ipswich to be joined to the adjourned Vickery and Canning.

"On 6 July 2020 the defendants were arraigned and entered guilty pleas to Count 2 Conspiracy to import Class A drugs (cocaine) and Count 3 Conspiracy to import class B drugs (cannabis).

"In addition to that, Canning pleaded guilty to Count 4 and Count 5 — possessing a prohibited firearm and possessing ammunition.

"All parties also entered guilty pleas to the money laundering charges relating to cash found during the searches of their person and or properties.

"All parties accepted that they fall within the category of Leadership Role. The hierarchy being Kavanagh, Vickery, Canning.

"Vickery sat immediately beneath Kavanagh in the operation and above Canning; he was directed by Kavanagh and in turn directed Canning, in some instances relaying instructions from Kavanagh, in some instances instructing Canning directly.

"Vickery had a relationship with Kavanagh dating back to at least 2016. He together with Canning managed the operation on a day to day basis. This included;

"Receiving and taking possession of the drug importations from mainland Europe.

"Unloading drug deliveries.

"Reloading the machinery with sums of cash for payments in exchange for wholesaling drugs.

"Involvement in adapting and converting the industrial machinery used for the concealment of drugs and cash. This involved sourcing materials, including paints, screws and tape and using these to convert the units.

"Vickery additionally arranged for the acquisition of GPS trackers to follow the movement of the vehicles used to transport the drugs and cash.

"Vickery, following instructions from Kavanagh, directed Canning’s numerous trips to mainland Europe (mainly Spain) during which Canning met contacts for the purchase and receipt of wholesale Class A and B drugs.

"It follows that Canning, albeit sitting beneath his co-defendants in the operation, also occupied an organisational role very near to the top of the chain.

"Kavanagh sat at the top of the operation. His basis of plea asserts that he joined the conspiracy at a later stage than Vickery and Canning. It is nevertheless clear from the communications that he was their superior.

"Both referred to him as ‘gaffer’ and the daily running of the operation by Vickery and Canning was conducted at the behest of Kavanagh. The security measures, and general standard of living and cash at his address, also point to him being higher in the chain."

Bomber Kavanagh, Vickery and Canning were ordered to stand and Judge Martyn Levitt eyed them from the top of the court.

Kavanagh smoothed down his suit. He was once the most powerful crime lord in Ireland who oversaw a massive drug mob which engaged in two murderous feuds.

But it was all over and all that was left was for Justice Martyn Levitt to dole out his justice and to conclude the fall of Bomber and with him a carefully constructed empire built on murder and greed.

Countless victims of his violence and many innocent gun victims were not there to see the end of his brutal reign. But many would rest easier now, along with others who worked tirelessly to nab him over three decades.

I knew it was going to be a long sentence and that it would be a long time before Bomber would see his weapons collection again, or indeed bundle wads of cash in his wife’s handbag collection for safe keeping.

With impeccable English manners, the judge explained why he had to give him an appropriate sentence for his crimes. He didn’t pull any punches and from the oft indicated that he was considering between 20 and 30 years for the head of the ‘sophisticated’ drug operation. It was clear that there would be no easy ride for any of the three men in the dock.

Detailing the various charges facing the trio of drugs, money laundering and a weapons charge which Canning had pleaded guilty to, Justice Levett opened by pointing out how gardai had been central to the demise of Kavanagh and his cronies.

He told the court that a search in Dublin in January 2017, which was conducted by officers from the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, netted the key to blowing open the operation in the UK.

Aggravating factors considered during sentencing, the judge said, included the successful nature of the drug importation carousel and the fact that there had been multiple imports within a year; 23 in total were considered by the court.

While Kavanagh’s barrister asked for a third reduction in sentence for his guilty plea he was only given 20 per cent and the time he had already served on the firearm charge since September 2, 2019 was not taken into account.

The judge sentenced him to 27 years, reduced to 21 with eight and two years to run concurrently.

He told him he would serve half and then be released on licence back to the community and that a proceeds of crime case will follow immediately.

He said that Kavanagh would have to list all his assets, all over the world, and submit that to court where it will be heard next year.

Canning, with no previous convictions, was next to be sentenced. He was given 18 years for the drugs offences, reduced to 14 and a half years and with eight and one year concurrent for other counts including the money laundering charge.

Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh

Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh

A further five years for a weapons conviction brought his total sentence up to 19 and a half years.

Gary Vickery must have know what was coming, having seen the fate of his pals. Standing in the middle of the two, he was handed down 20 years on drug offences with a further eight and four years concurrent.

“Your total is 20 years,” he was told, “which you will serve half and then the rest on licence. This reflects the seriousness of these offences.”

All three will have to detail their assets to the courts by May, with the case up for mention in October 2023.

As they were led away, Bomber chatted briefly with Vickery, the man listed as his direct subordinate in the operation, then blew a kiss to Joanne through the glass partition.

Canning, whose phone messages, led to others in the group never spoke throughout the proceedings nor as he was led away.


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