The gang that struck at the Lordship Credit Union and murdered Garda Adrian Donohoe were gone in less than 60 seconds.
Ahead of a documentary on the case to be broadcast on RTÉ One, Prime Time's Security Correspondent Barry Cummins takes a closer look at the ongoing investigation.
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Credit union worker Pat Bellew had just climbed into his Mazda when the raiders pounced. It was 9.28pm on Friday 25 January 2013.
"Just as I was straightening the car up to drive forward, a couple of people jumped across the wall and they shouted something like 'this is a robbery'," he told me.
"I don’t remember the exact words," he recounted, "but the impression I got was we were going to be raided."
Pat stopped his car and one of the gang was immediately at his door. "The next thing I knew there was an enormous crack, somebody broke in the driver's door window. And the glass came in on top of me."
Seconds earlier, Pat and fellow credit union worker Bernadette McShane had locked up the premises at Lordship in Co Louth, and walked the short distance to their vehicles. Their signal for leaving the building had been the arrival into the credit union car park of a two-car convoy.
By arrangement, Mary Hanlon had driven her Nissan Qashqai from Cooley Credit Union, closely followed by an unmarked Toyota Avensis garda car driven by Detective Joe Ryan.
His colleague Adrian Donohoe was in the front passenger seat. Both were armed with handguns, which were in holsters strapped to their belts. Pat and Bernadette watched on CCTV as the vehicles arrived. They turned off the lights and locked up the premises.
Mary Hanlon had €27,000 cash in her car - the night's takings from three credit unions further out along the Cooley Peninsula - Carlingford, Omeath and Cooley. Pat Bellew had €7,000 cash from Lordship, which he carried with him as he said goodnight to Bernadette and walked to his car.
Pat waved to Detectives Donohoe and Ryan as he walked past their car. It was a wet night, the type of night he told me that "you wouldn’t be stopping for conversation". He moved quickly to his own vehicle. The plan was for Pat to join the convoy and travel under armed guard to deposit the cash in a nightsafe in Dundalk.
As Pat sat into his Mazda and Bernadette in her Nissan Micra, they had no idea that they, the two gardaí and Mary Hanlon, were all being watched by an armed gang.
Four raiders were crouched down behind the back wall of the car park. A fifth member of the gang was in a getaway car, the sudden arrival of which would signal the beginning of the raid.
The murderous attack at Lordship Credit Union lasted 58 seconds, from when the stolen getaway car - a 08 Volkswagen Passat - blocked the car park exit, to when the four raiders sped off in that vehicle with €7,000 cash, leaving a garda dead on the ground.
"On the night he was shot dead, Adrian Donohoe was not only working to protect the public, he was also protecting his local community"
The gang sprang over a back wall of the credit union car park as the stolen Passat suddenly pulled in off the main road, blocking the convoy of cars that were about to depart Lordship Credit Union. The car had its indicator on as it pulled in, as if it had merely pulled up on the hard shoulder for some innocent reason. It was, in fact, the signal for the raid to start.
During the recent court case I watched the grainy CCTV footage which captured the horror that unfolded in those 58 fateful seconds.
I listened to the audio captured from Pat Bellew's car. Pat's internal dashcam had started automatically when he put in his keys - the footage conveying the terrifying aggression in the voice of one of the raiders.
The most chilling moment was, of course, the discharge of a shotgun, pointing directly at the head of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe.
Adrian was facing the gunman when he was shot with one blast of the weapon. He never had time to draw his own firearm. He had just stepped out of the unmarked garda vehicle to investigate why a car had suddenly pulled up and blocked the car park exit.
He then turned and looked back across the roof of the garda car, perhaps sensing or hearing the raiders approach from behind him. It was then the criminal armed with the shotgun fired over the roof of the garda vehicle. The gunman was about two metres from Adrian when he fired directly at him.
Adrian Donohoe took the full force of the shotgun blast and died instantly.
Adrian Donohoe had been a garda for 17 years. His family was steeped in Garda life.
One of a family of six from Kilnaleck, Co Cavan, two of Adrian’s brothers were also gardaí.
His wife Caroline was also a garda and they had met at the Garda Training College in Templemore in 1994 where they were in the same class. Eight years later they were married in Caroline’s native Co Clare.
Both Adrian and Caroline were assigned to work in Dundalk Garda station and they settled on the Cooley Peninsula.
Adrian was a hugely popular member of the force, both with colleagues and also in the community. During research for this documentary I met so many people who remember Adrian with great fondness. Among the descriptions - he was approachable, affable, a typical decent garda.
His colleague and friend, Inspector Darren Kirwan, remembers Adrian as "everything a man could aspire to be; a real role model". It was Darren and another of Adrian's colleagues, Detective Kieran Reidy, who had the awful job that Friday night of going to tell Caroline Donohoe that Adrian had been murdered.
Caroline went to the carpark that night in the aftermath of the murder. Since the end of January of this year she has attended more than 60 days of evidence in the Central Criminal Court trial of the only person ever charged in connection with her husband’s murder.
On the night he was shot dead, Adrian Donohoe was not only working to protect the public, he was also protecting his local community. His children Amy and Niall attended the school directly across the road from Lordship Credit Union. His own home was a short drive away.
Adrian had worked on cash escort duty many times, often on the Friday night shift when money was escorted from four credit unions on the Cooley Peninsula to a nightsafe in Dundalk.
That night, money from Carlingford and Omeath had already been escorted by another Garda car to Cooley, where Adrian and Joe Ryan linked up with Mary Hanlon to travel in a two-car convoy to Lordship and meet with a third vehicle - to be driven by Pat Bellew.
"For 40 minutes the raiders hit behind a back wall, most likely in communication by walkie-talkie with the getaway driver who was parked up somewhere nearby"
In the two years before the attack at Lordship, there had been a number of armed robberies on either side of the border in counties Louth, Down and Armagh.
Lordship Credit Union itself had previously been hit. In 2011 €22,000 was taken in an armed raid, which also involved the use of a getaway vehicle which was burnt out over the border.
Following the 2011 raid, credit union protocols were changed so that staff would not leave the premises with cash until after a garda escort had arrived at the carpark.
In 2012 a decision was taken by Garda management that detectives on cash escort duties would no longer carry Uzi sub-machine guns and instead carry handguns. There was some disquiet amongst detectives about this decision, especially gardaí policing the border amid the ongoing threat of dissident Republicans, but the decision was not reversed.
Adrian Donohoe wasn't even meant to work that Friday night, but they were a man down in Dundalk station so Adrian volunteered. It was a very wet night with some spot flooding on some back roads on the Cooley Peninsula.
At 9.12pm Adrian and Joe left Cooley, following Mary Hanlon - who had €27,000 cash to deposit in Dundalk - in her Qashqai. They had no idea that around 20 minutes before, a stolen Volkswagen Passat had dropped off four raiders in a laneway close to Lordship Credit Union.
For 40 minutes the raiders hid behind a back wall, most likely in communication by walkie-talkie with the getaway driver who was parked up somewhere nearby. At 9.25pm the Qashqai and Avensis convoy arrived at Lordship. Pat Bellew and Bernadette McShane locked up the building and headed for their vehicles.
There were just two minutes and 24 seconds between the time the gardaí arrived at Lordship and when the armed gang struck. The co-ordination of the stolen car blocking the exit, at exactly the time that the four raiders sprang over the wall, shows the gang was efficient, precise.
The prosecution called them "slick". The gang’s actions in the following seconds showed they were also absolutely ruthless.
The CCTV is extremely distressing to watch. It's not that you can clearly see the crime; the footage is grainy and not easy to see. The car park lights had been switched off when the credit union was locked up and it was a dark wet night.
But it is the knowledge of what you are watching that is most chilling. A gang lay in wait for close to 40 minutes, lurking behind a wall and silently awaiting a signal to strike. The four men who jumped over the wall were masked; two of them armed, one with a shotgun, the other a handgun.
The two armed men ran straight towards the unmarked garda car. The man with the shotgun was closest to the vehicle and from a distance of about 2 metres fired the weapon directly at Adrian Donohoe.
The gunman and the raider with the handgun pointed their weapons at Detective Joe Ryan, moving the weapons around and pointing at his body and his legs. The muzzle of the shotgun was inches from his face. Three things were shouted at him: "Give us the keys, give us the money, I’m going to f*****g kill you."
As part of the Prime Time documentary to be broadcast tomorrow on the investigation, myself and producer Sallyanne Godson, together with cameraman Aidan McGuinness, met with Pat Bellew who recounted in detail his memories of coming face-to-face with one of the raiders that night. As the two armed raiders ran to the garda car, another had approached Pat, who had just got into his Mazda.
Pat had just put the bag with €7,000 on the front passenger seat of his vehicle and was getting ready to join the Garda escort on the other side of the small car park, when the raiders struck.
One of the gang ran straight to Pat’s car and smashed in the driver’s window. The raider opened the door and reached across him, trying to get the money on the passenger seat. Pat Bellew remembered how the raider wore a balaclava and never spoke. He also seemed to be making great effort not to touch Pat in any way. It seemed the gang was forensically aware.
Failing to reach the cash through the driver's side, the raider went around to the other side and snatched the money. This was the only money stolen that night. The raiders failed to open the Qashqai, which was blocked in by the stolen Passat, and never managed to get to the €27,000 from Carlingford, Omeath and Cooley Credit Unions.
A fourth raider had run to Bernadette McShane's Nissan Micra but she had no money in her vehicle. That raider and the other three then ran to the getaway Passat, which sped off towards the border leaving Adrian Donohoe lying dead.
In the seconds after the raiders fled, Joe Ryan was frantically trying to contact Garda Control as Pat Bellew stepped out of his car. Pat had not actually heard the gunshot. He now thinks the gun was fired at the same time his window was smashed. It was only when he walked towards Bernadette to see if she was okay and he looked back towards the garda car that he saw Adrian lying on the ground. It was clear he was dead.
Detective Garda Joe Ryan provided the first clues to his fellow officers that night. He told them the raiders had border accents, not Belfast, not Dublin but border accents. Officers in Dundalk, Adrian's friends, stunned at what had happened to their colleague, began a murder investigation. In time that investigation would become the biggest such inquiry in the history of the State.
Two days after the murder, the car used by the gang was found burnt out at a location deep in Co Armagh.
The vehicle had been stolen two nights before the murder at Clogherhead in a 'creeper burglary', where the front door lock of a house was removed and a burglar entered, stole car keys and made off with the vehicle. The owner of the house woke up and noticed he house seemed cold, looked downstairs and saw the front door open. The Volkswagen Passat was gone from the driveway.
The gang did not leave any forensic evidence at the scene and the getaway car was utterly destroyed by fire and yielded no evidence.
The shotgun used to murder Adrian Donohoe was taken from the scene by the killer and it was never recovered. One line of inquiry was that it might have been a weapon previously stolen in Co Cavan, but that was never established.
A hammer used by one raider to break the window of Pat Bellew's car was dropped inside the vehicle as the raider tried to grab money. The hammer was examined for fingerprints and DNA but nothing of value was found.
'Persons of interest'
In the absence of forensic evidence, CCTV and phone records became a key part of the Garda investigation.
With the knowledge that members of the gang had border accents, detectives investigated the movements of over 200 people nominated as 'persons of interest' - people who might have a possible involvement in the crime. That list was whittled down and focused on a group of young men, some of whom were living in Co Louth and some in Co Armagh.
In 2014, one year after the murder, the then Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), Detective Inspector Brian Mohan, showed Prime Time around the CCTV analysis room at Dundalk Garda station. I was researching a report to mark the one-year anniversary of the murder and part of my report naturally focused on the fact that nobody had yet been charged.
Our tour of the CCTV room showed us why the investigation was fast becoming the biggest ever in Garda history. The work being conducted in the room was slow and methodical. CCTV systems from 360 locations had been gathered in the days after the murder from all around Co Louth and Co Armagh and further afield.
Some of those systems had footage going back three months. The volume of CCTV was so vast that gardaí had to ask Dell to build a special external hard-drive to accommodate it all.
The message from officers in Dundalk that day in 2014 was that the investigation was progressing, but it would be a lengthy investigation. There would be no quick development, but the belief was the clues - and perhaps the answers - lay somewhere in the CCTV and also in phone records of suspects.
Mohan was one of three detective inspectors who led the investigation at various stages. The other two were Pat Marry who led the investigation at the start, and Martin Beggy, the current SIO, who was among the team of officers who spent the last six months attending the trial.
The recent trial heard detailed evidence about a distinctive BMW car and its movements on the night the getaway car was stolen in Clogherhead, and its movements on the day of the raid, both before and after the murder.
The vehicle was owned by someone living on the Cooley Peninsula. The prosecution case was that this vehicle was a key piece of evidence and that it linked a number of people who it was alleged were suspects in the case. Expert evidence was given by two experts from a firm called Acuity Forensics. Based in England, the firm provide expert opinion on makes and models of vehicles captured on CCTV.
The investigation into a murder on the Cooley Peninsula extended right around the world. Of four suspects never charged but mentioned during the recent trial, one never left the island of Ireland, while another travelled to Australia for a time and two other suspects settled in Boston.
The investigation led gardaí to the United States and work closely with members of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). For my Prime Time documentary I met with Jim Mancuso and Scott Crabb, both HSI Attachés based in London. They co-ordinated the Garda work which saw officers travel from Ireland to the Irish-American community in The Bronx and take statements from 68 people as part of the murder investigation.
The officers who travelled to the US included members of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations such as detectives Mark Phillips and Jim McGovern, and also gardaí from Dundalk such as Pat Marry, Bobby Ogle, Pádraig O’Reilly and Paul Gill.
Jim Mancuso and Scott Crabb have spent time in Dundalk with the investigating team, as have Homeland Security Special Agents Mathew Katske and Maryanne Wade, who both worked closely with gardaí.
"Law enforcement across the globe is borderless", Scott told me. "Anytime a law enforcement officer falls, no matter what country they’re from, it’s as if you’ve lost one of your own."
One part of the Homeland Security work involved locating Aaron Brady in New York in 2017. Four years after he entered the US on a three-month visa, Aaron Brady was arrested by officers, detained and subsequently deported for immigration offences.
Upon return to Ireland Brady was jailed for dangerously driving a stolen car in 2011. He had skipped bail in 2013, while awaiting sentence having pleaded guilty to offences where he crashed into a number of vehicles in Dundalk causing €10,000 worth of damage. He had just completed that one-year sentence when in 2018 he was arrested and subsequently charged with the capital murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe.
The recent murder trial heard from 139 witnesses - 132 of those were prosecution witnesses.
The seven defence witnesses included the defendant himself.
Aaron Brady spent five days in the witness box.
He agreed he had lied to gardaí about his movements in the hours, days and weeks after the murder of Adrian Donohoe, but he said he was lying because he didn't want to admit he'd been laundering diesel.
A jury, which spent more than half a year of their lives hearing the case - including continuing to attend court through the Covid-19 pandemic - has now issued its verdict.
Prime Time’s special documentary on the ongoing investigation into the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe will be broadcast on RTÉ One tomorrow at 9.35pm