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extraordinary State witness Joey 'the Lips' O’Callaghan finally gets Junior Cert result

O’Callaghan's evidence helped to jail Brian Kenny and Thomas Hinchon for life and, at the age of 20, he was cut off from his old life


Joey 'The Lips' O' Callaghan, right, with 'Sunday World' crime reporter Nicola Tallant

Joey 'The Lips' O' Callaghan, right, with 'Sunday World' crime reporter Nicola Tallant

Joey 'The Lips' O' Callaghan, right, with 'Sunday World' crime reporter Nicola Tallant

Eighteen years ago, a traumatised teenager did his Junior Cert exams under armed guard in a police station, months before he would become the youngest person ever to enter the witness protection programme.

The following year, Joseph ‘the Lips’ O’Callaghan testified against Brian Kenny and Thomas Hinchon, who were accused of the murder of Jonathan O’Reilly outside Dublin’s Cloverhill Prison in April 2004.

His evidence helped to jail the two men for life and, at the age of 20, he was cut off from his old life. He left everything behind, including the state exams he had completed with the help of investigating detectives.

In recent days, he has finally received the results of the six papers conducted under such extraordinary circumstances, after one of the educators involved in his assessment heard his story on the award-winning podcast, The Witness: In His Own Words, which has hit a landmark two million streams.

“I actually received my Junior Cert results this week — I passed. I failed one subject, but I passed the rest. I got five out of six so it’s not bad,” he said.

“You have to remember, I was in a room and there was a guard standing there with a gun and some guy sitting there examining me and I was just sitting there writing away. I actually done it before I went into witness protection.”

Retired Detective Inspector Todd O’Loughlin, who was part of the investigation team into the murder, came up with the idea to occupy the young witness as he waited to give evidence at the trial.

O’Callaghan said: “He looked after me before I went into witness protection. I’d nothing to do so they arranged for me to do my Junior Cert.”

After years of being voiceless, he is astonished the podcast has become such a hit.

In it he speaks of the harrowing years of psychological, physical and sexual abuse since first talking his way to a job on the local milk float as a 12-year-old. It would turn out to be a drug-dealing front run by gangster Kenny.

The youngster spent years under the control of the murderer until he finally escaped in the weeks after O’Reilly was killed in a drive-by shooting and told the police everything he knew.

“Everything was timed and controlled. If I wanted to have a bath I had to use the same bathwater as him,” he said of his teenage years spent under Kenny’s grip.

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“If I wanted to have something to eat, I had to knock on the floor to come down the stairs. It was awful.

“I think no matter what happens with Brian Kenny at this stage, two million people know the sort of person he is and what I went through. It was always about people knowing the real story. Not that I was just some person that went and turned state witness, because that’s not what happened. I went and done the right thing.

I was 10, 11 years of age when I met Brian Kenny. All I wanted was a job on a milk round. I didn’t sign up to deliver heroin, and smack and crack and coke. And I definitely didn’t sign up for somebody’s life to be taken and someone to be murdered the way they were murdered. They didn’t deserve that.”


Murderer Brian Kenny is due out on day release. Picture by Ernie Leslie

Murderer Brian Kenny is due out on day release. Picture by Ernie Leslie

Murderer Brian Kenny is due out on day release. Picture by Ernie Leslie


He felt the best-selling book, The Witness, written by Nicola Tallant and the precursor to the podcast, helped set the record straight among his own community.

“In the first week it went to No 1 and people were starting to really see what happened, because there was this perception that I was this gangland criminal and I went and done this deal with the guards.

The Witness has been an amazing experience. It has helped me so much mentally and it has helped my family.

“The support we’ve got from the people in Ballymun, Blanchardstown, Finglas. The people that called us all rats have turned around now and sent cards and knocked on the door and said, ‘Listen, we’re sorry’.”

However, the threat hanging over his life is looming larger than ever for the Dubliner, who is still forced to live under a new identity for his own safety.

“The level of fear is still there and, if anything, the level of fear has gone up,” he said, shortly after hearing the news Kenny was set for another day-release from prison.

“Brian Kenny is being released. He was out for Christmas. My mother was crying her eyes out on Christmas Day.

I was sitting here on my own eating a turkey. If I was to go to my mam’s house and somebody seen me go in there, the wrong person, I’d be dead within 20 minutes.” 

Any earnings from the book and the podcast have been poured into increasing security around O’Callaghan and his family.

When I leave the house, I have two alarms and three mobile phones with me and it will always be like that because at the end of the day Brian Kenny is on his way home,” he said.

Over the past year O’Callaghan said he has been issued with two threat to life warnings in the form of an official Garda Information Message (GIM). He believes the threat to his life should be taken into consideration when decisions are being made to allow Kenny out of prison.

“It should come into play. I must have written to the parole board at least 10 or 15 times over the years. My mother has written to them, the murder victim’s family have written to them.

“And he’s still getting these days out, he’s still getting this treatment. I’m fighting tooth and nail every day to keep him in there and I just seem to be getting nowhere.”

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