John Gilligan left a Spanish court a free man on Monday despite confessing to drugs and weapons charges.
Gilligan was handed a fine and suspended prison sentence by a Costa Blanca judge after admitting to smuggling cannabis and powerful sleeping pills into Ireland and being the owner of a weapon found hidden in the back garden of his Costa Blanca home.
Lawyers for Gilligan (71) and eight of his accomplices, including his son Darren, agreed a plea bargain deal with prosecutors. Gilligan had been facing more than eight years in jail before the trial.
The court heard the convicted drug dealer, due to appear on a Virgin Media documentary on Monday night, was treated leniently over the gun find because of a “full confession” following his 2020 arrest.
Gilligan’s partner Sharon Oliver, currently in hospital in the UK, was not in court and will be tried on Tuesday after it emerged she is the only one of the nine insisting she has done nothing wrong. She is expected to give evidence via video link.
The eight defendants who turned up at Torrevieja’s Criminal Court Number Two for a trial scheduled to last three days were freed after accepting the plea bargain deal.
Prosecutors initially demanded a jail sentence totalling six years for John Gilligan for smuggling cannabis and powerful sleeping pills from Spain to Ireland inside consignments of toys and flip-flops.
In a pre-trial indictment they said they wanted Gilligan jailed for 18 months over the gun, which Spanish police described as a rare Colt Python -357 Magnum, and claimed after his arrest it could have been used to kill journalist Veronica Guerin.
He had also been warned he faced 10 months in prison if found guilty of belonging to a criminal gang.
Gilligan received a suspended prison sentence of 22 months as part of the plea bargain deal – nine months for the cannabis charge, nine months for illegal possession of a firearm and four months for exporting prescription-only drugs without licence.
The charge of being a member of a criminal gang was dropped as part of the agreement.
Prosecutor Carmen Millan said Gilligan’s confession that the gun was his after his arrest was a “mitigating factor” in the sentence he had received after the brief court hearing started.
Gilligan was the first of the eight defendants present in court to take the stand and confirm he was pleading guilty to the three charges still standing in return for a suspended prison sentence and fines totalling just over €14,000.
Asked by the judge if he accepted the deal, he replied in English through a translator: “Yes, I agree. Yes, I am guilty.”
He told the court: “My partner Sharon knows nothing about anything. It was all my fault.”
The other defendants
had each been facing up to six years and 10 months in jail if convicted, but ended up receiving suspended one-and-a-half year prison sentences.
Gilligan, released from prison in Ireland in October 2013 after serving 17 years of a 20-year-sentence for trafficking cannabis resin, was held after Spanish police investigating his new drug smuggling operation raided his then-home in Torrevieja in October 2020.
The gun which investigators initially linked to Veronica Guerin’s murder was found buried during a search of his back garden.
He was the only one of the nine people indicted charged over the weapons find.
Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she would not be watching the documentary which includes an interview with Gilligan.
Responding to questions on the matter at a road safety press conference she said: “This is a man that has created misery for so many people… and I know there’s a a lot of people, families and communities that are very upset by the fact that this documentary is on this evening.”
Asked if it was an error for the documentary to be broadcast she said: “I think the producers maybe need to think about what they’re trying to achieve by showing this programme.”
Jimmy Guerin, brother of Ms Guerin, who was murdered by members of Gilligan’s gang, told RTÉ radio’s This Week programme he was “horrified” when he heard Gilligan had been interviewed for the documentary and that he thinks it is “wholly inappropriate for this programme to be aired at all”.
Speaking on the same programme David Harvey, chief executive of Peninsula Television, which produced the series rejected “completely” the possibility “that it is a glorification of John Gilligan”.
He added: “I think for such a significant, notorious figure to go on the record on national media at any point would be something that most organisations could not refuse the opportunity to show,” he said, adding that they did not pay Gilligan “a penny” to take part.