One of the main protagonists in the deadly Drogheda feud has been jailed for four-and-a-half years for the arson of a stolen car when he was under garda surveillance because of his role in the vendetta.
Paul Crosby (24), of Rathmullen Park, Drogheda, pleaded guilty to setting the 132-registered Volkswagen Polo on fire at Yellowbatter, Drogheda, on May 10 last year.
Such is the threat against Crosby - who has been officially warned by gardai of a threat against his life - that his appearance from Mountjoy Prison required the Armed Support Unit's presence at the courthouse in Drogheda yesterday.
Crosby is considered a key member of the so-called anti-Maguire faction in the feud and a close friend of two on-the-run brothers who are hiding out in Spain.
"In the gang's pecking order, Crosby would be considered almost their equal. He has known them since they were all children growing up," a source said last night.
Gardai suspect that Crosby may have key information about the events surrounding the gruesome murder of teen Keane Mulready-Woods in January in which his close associate Robbie Lawlor was a main suspect.
Lawlor, who was shot dead in Belfast earlier this month, had been spotted in Crosby's company around the time that the 17-year-old was murdered and mutilated.
It can also be revealed that just hours after Keane's killing, Crosby was the target of a revenge attack when a gunman mistakenly shot an innocent taxi driver who was driving the gangster in rush-hour traffic in the Co Louth town on January 13.
The driver has made a good recovery and within days Crosby was taken off the streets after the bail conditions that were imposed on him for the offences he was sentenced for yesterday were revoked after he breached the terms on 41 occasions.
"When faced with the risk to his life he found himself in the most unusual predicament in that his strict bail conditions made him a sitting duck," his lawyer argued at a court sitting before Crosby was remanded in custody.
He has remained in jail since last January and sources believe that has been the safest place for him, with some of his closest associates being forced to flee the country and Lawlor being murdered.
There can be no doubt that Crosby is one of the main targets for the Maguire faction, whose leader Owen Maguire was left paralysed after being shot in an attempted murder in July 2018.
Crosby was behind a vicious and mocking phone call which ridiculed Maguire for being in a wheelchair and featured a series of other insults, some of them sexual in nature, which went viral on social media in March of last year.
At one stage he even goaded Maguire by asking: "Do you want to go for a walk and sort this out?"
Crosby even claimed he assaulted arch rival and Maguire's close associate Cornelius Price in a 2018 jailhouse attack in one of his bizarre online rants.
Crosby has been questioned a number of times in relation to the Drogheda feud and his home was raided by officers investigating the attempted gun murder of Owen's brother Brendan Maguire in February of last year but he was not arrested on that occasion.
Maguire was targeted just five days after Crosby was released from prison, where he was being held on remand, when a jury took just 43 minutes to clear him of trying to murder and falsely imprison a man who was stabbed 28 times and forced into the boot of a car that was pushed into a canal.
Crosby had pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the attempted murder of Gerard Boyle (33) at Slane, Co Meath, on November 10, 2016 - the second time that was tried for those offences. Last July, Crosby walked free from Dundalk Circuit Court after being cleared by a jury of two armed robbery charges.
However, his luck has finally run out and he is now serving his longest stretch in prison.
Yesterday the court heard that Crosby has 40 previous convictions and had a cocaine addiction problem at the time of the arson offence.
The court heard he was one of three people under garda surveillance.
The trio had been seen trying to get the VW Polo started at an industrial estate on the Ballymakenny Road, Drogheda.
It was then driven to a field outside Drogheda and the car the three had been in, a BMW, went to a garage, where a bottle of water was bought. The water was tipped out and the bottle was three-quarters filled with petrol.
One person got out of the BMW and went into the field where the VW was set on fire.
The BMW left the scene but was stopped a short time later by gardai, including members of the Emergency Response Unit. The three were arrested.
The court heard Crosby had been a passenger in the BMW and had not got the accelerant or set fire to the VW. However, he was part of the common design and joint enterprise.
Passing sentence, Judge Baxter said: "The gardai have to be commended for the level of thoroughness," of their investigation and added that Crosby was "essentially caught red-handed".
The setting alight of the car in the middle of a field was for a suspicious purpose and there had been extensive planning involved, she said.
Judge Baxter imposed a five-year jail term, with the final six months suspended, on Crosby entering into a good behaviour bond for 12 months and being under the supervision of the Probation Service for six months.