Spanish and Irish police are examining a revolver found during a raid on the Alicante villa of the convicted Irish drug trafficker John Gilligan to determine whether it was the weapon used in the murder of the journalist Veronica Guerin.
Gilligan, whose gang murdered the campaigning reporter on the outskirts of Dublin in 1996, was never convicted in connection with her killing. He did, however, threaten Guerin and her young son when she investigated his wealth and lifestyle.
A Dublin court acquitted Gilligan of ordering Guerin’s murder in 2001. Despite the judge having “grave suspicions” about Gilligan’s involvement, the uncorroborated evidence of his former criminal associates was not enough to convict him of murder.
Spain’s national police force said in a statement on Friday that the weapon, a Colt Python, had been recovered during a series of raids in Torrevieja and Orihuela Costa. Gilligan and five others were arrested following the operation, which was carried out in collaboration with officers from Garda and the UK’s National Crime Agency.
“Those arrested were led by a known Irish criminal and were part of a group of violent drugs and arms traffickers and were specialists in shipping illegal merchandise to the UK and Ireland from Spain,” the Policía Nacional said.
The investigation led to the seizure of three 9mm pistols, eight kilos of marijuana and 26,000 pills, and a more unexpected discovery.
“In one of the searches carried out in Alicante as part of the investigation, a Colt Python, the same model of revolver that was used in the journalist’s murder, was found buried in a garden,” said the statement. “Spanish officers are working with the Irish police to determine whether it is the same weapon.”
At the end of Gilligan’s trial almost 20 years ago, Judge Diarmuid O’Donovan said he was responsible for a “haemorrhage of harm” and for which he had shown no remorse.
“Never in the history of the state has one person been responsible for so much wretchedness to so many,” he said.
The judge, however, told the no-jury court that he had no choice but to acquit Gilligan of murder because the main prosecution evidence, from one of his former accomplices, Russell Warren, a state-protected witness, was unreliable and uncorroborated.
Gilligan was jailed for 28 years for importing 20,000 kilos of cannabis resin worth £32m, but found not guilty of four charges of possessing weapons and ammunition.
Gilligan was released from prison in October 2013. He fled Ireland the following year after being the target of two gun attacks.