herald

Sunday 26 January 2020

Taximan lucky to be alive in gang feud crossfire terror

Gardai at the scene of the shooting at the Bridge of Peace
Gardai at the scene of the shooting at the Bridge of Peace
Paralysed gang boss Owen Maguire

An innocent taxi driver was lucky to escape with his life after being caught in the crossfire of the deadly Drogheda feud.

Aged in his late 30s, the victim was shot twice in the back while sitting in his vehicle on the Bridge of Peace shortly after 6pm yesterday.

The taxi man was not the intended target and gardai believe he had the "grave misfortune" of taking a fare from an under- threat hitman just moments earlier.

That volatile criminal is a leading member of the so-called anti-Maguire faction and has been linked to a number of gun attacks, including an attempted murder last February.

The 24-year-old has been a prime target for the mob led by Owen Maguire.

The Herald can reveal the gangland target, on bail for a number of offences, was on his way to the garda station in the town to sign on as part of his bail conditions when the gunman struck last night.

The shooting took place during rush-hour traffic when a dark coloured car pulled up alongside the taxi and shots were fired though the window, hitting the driver.

The target's girlfriend was with him in the taxi and both made their way to the garda station for safety following the incident.

Wounds

"This taxi driver is completely innocent, he simply took a fare off an under threat individual and unfortunately he has now suffered serious gunshot wounds," a senior source told the Herald.

The scene on George Street at the Bridge of Peace was last night sealed-off to facilitate a garda technical examination.

In the aftermath of the shooting, gardai were searching for a vehicle believed to have been used in the attack. It's thought this car was found burnt out near the town a short time later.

"The driver of the taxi, a man understood to be in his late 30s injured in the shooting, has been removed by ambulance to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. His injuries are not thought to be life-threatening," a garda spokesman said last night.

In recent days, gardai had received intelligence of a planned outbreak of violence being directed by the Maguire faction against their rivals, which led to detectives carrying out additional patrols. On Saturday morning, a 20-year-old criminal linked to the anti-Maguire gang was the target of an apparent hit attempt after claiming he was shot at near his home.

He is a close associate of the target of last night's gun attack and both are currently facing charges for the same offence.

Gardai are investigating a report that the 20-year-old left his home with another associate in a VW Passat but they were followed by a black VW Golf.

A short time later in the Moneymore area, the Passat was rammed by the other vehicle which caused the car to spin around, hit a kerb and crash.

It is then alleged two men wearing balaclavas got out of the Golf and one of them fired a number of shots with a handgun at the 20-year-old, who fled the scene uninjured with his associate.

Gardai were quickly alerted but an examination of the scene failed to yield any evidence of bullet casings.

There have been no arrests and no one was injured.

Ahead of last night's shooting, sources revealed Maguire's faction had "upped the ante" in recent days. This led to a number of surveillance operations taking place as tensions threaten to spiral out of control.

Murders

There have been a number of murders and attempted killings linked to the Drogheda feud.

Last August Keith Branigan (29), a member of the crime group feuding with associates of Owen Maguire (35), was shot dead outside a caravan park in Clogherhead.

In July 2018 mobster Maguire was shot and seriously injured in the first major incident of the feud. He was lucky to survive and spent the following 10 months in hospital recovering from his injuries. The following April, his brother Brendan Maguire survived an attempt on his life at the M1 retail park in Drogheda.

The target in last night's shooting is the chief suspect in the attempted hit on Brendan Maguire.

He is also an associate of murdered Branigan and within hours of that killing had approached a number of rival criminals and "was making all sorts of threats".

Sources say he has been "driving a lot of the hatred" in the feud and is suspected of being the man recorded goading and abusing Owen Maguire last year in a recorded phone call.

In the video recorded and shared on social media. Maguire, confined to a wheelchair, is ridiculed about being left paralysed with the rival mobster goading him: "Do you want to go for a walk and sort this out."

A local grandmother told the Herald: "It's like this town is getting worse by the day. People are scared to leave their own homes.

"I hate to say it but I can't see an end to all this violence."

Another woman described how she heard a number of loud bangs when walking through the town.

"It's like everyone who lives here is constantly on high alert," she said.

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