The protected witness Charles Bowden has been released from Arbour Hill prison and relocated abroad as part of the witness protection programme. Mr Bowden, aged 38, was the first person admitted to the programme when it was set up after the murder of Veronica Guerin five years ago. He is the only witness to have given evidence against all four drugs gang members, Patrick Eugene Holland, Paul Ward, Brian Meehan and John Gilligan, at their trials in the Special Criminal Court. Earlier this month, his two other cell mates, John Dunne and Russell Warren, who also gave evidence against gang members, were released and re-located.

Originally from Finglas in Dublin, Bowden left school after his Inter Cert and joined the Army. He served for six years and rose to the rank of corporal before being discharged after he beat up a new recruit. After separating from his wife and two children, he claimed he got into financial difficulties and was unable to pay to support them.

A black belt in Karate, he met one of Dublin's major ecstasy dealers in a gym in Buckingham Street and started selling drugs while working as a doorman at the Hogan Stand pub. He then moved on to distributing cannabis for the gang and became the criminal gang's quartermaster because of his expertise in firearms. He cleaned and loaded the Magnum used to kill Veronica Guerin but he always claimed he never knew she was going to be murdered. He said that he believed she was going to be threatened, shot at not shot.

Mr Bowden was sentenced to six years for drugs and firearms offences after he was granted immunity from prosecution for the murder and was due out in September of this year. Under armed protection in prison he served his sentence in an isolated four-cell area with John Dunne and Russell Warren.

Mr Bowden was told that he would be relocated abroad with his second wife, Juliet Bacon, and provided with a house, the mortgage to be paid by the State. He will be given a job comparable to his abilities and education and has had discussions with foreign witness protection programmes. He was released from Arbour Hill prison early yesterday morning and taken away by the Gardaí. It is an offence to try to contact him or publish his whereabouts.