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Veronica Guerin, Ireland

World Press Freedom Hero (Honoured in 2000)

Veronica Guerin covered organized crime for Ireland’s best-selling newspaper, the Sunday Independent. A household name, she was famous not only for her fearless reporting about the murderers and drug lords of Dublin’s criminal underworld but for her commitment to defending the public’s right to know. As a result of her work, she received numerous death threats, was attacked numerous times and ultimately killed.

Guerin was born in 1959 and came to journalism relatively late. After studying as an accountant and political researcher, she set up her own public relations company before joining the Sunday Business Post and what was then the Sunday Tribune. In 1994, she joined the Sunday Independent and began her career as an investigative reporter.

Guerin knew that her life was put at grave risk by her prize-winning reports on leading underworld figures, whom she identified by nicknames because of Ireland’s libel laws. In October 1994, gunshots shattered the windows of her cottage north of Dublin. On Jan. 30, 1995, the day after she published an article profiling “The Monk,” a man suspected of masterminding the largest robbery in Ireland’s history, Guerin was shot in the thigh by an unidentified assailant who attacked her in her home. Undaunted, she vowed to continue her investigations upon her release from the hospital. “I vow that the eyes of justice, the eyes of this journalist will not be shut again,“ she said. “No hand can deter me from my battle for the truth.” Her employer, Independent Newspapers, installed an expensive security system to protect her.

On Sept. 13, 1995, she was attacked again, this time by a convicted criminal, John Gilligan, who viciously beat her when she sought to interview him. According to Guerin, Gilligan called her the next day and said, “If you write a word about me, I will find your boy and kidnap him and rape him. I am going to kill you if you write a word about me.” Following this incident, the police provided her with a 24-hour escort, but she quickly dispensed with this protection because she said it hampered her style.

Guerin was killed on June 26, 1996, when one of two men on a motorcycle fired six rounds from a pistol at close range as she waited in her car at a traffic light just outside Dublin. She was 37 and married with a 6-year-old son, Cathal. She was murdered two days before she was due to address a conference in London on “Dying to Tell a Story: Journalists at Risk.”

Guerin’s slaying, the first murder of a journalist in the Irish Republic, sent shock waves throughout the country. Prime Minister John Bruton called it “an attack on democracy.” The Irish Parliament marked her death with a moment of silence. In a joint statement, leading editors in Ireland and Great Britain declared: “Veronica Guerin was murdered for being a journalist. She was a brave and brilliant reporter who was gunned down for being tenacious. This assassination is a fundamental attack on the free press. Journalists will not be intimidated.”

Her death led to Ireland’s largest criminal investigation, resulting in over 150 arrests and a crackdown on organized-crime gangs that her assassins could never have foreseen. In November 1998 Paul “Hippo” Ward, a Dublin drug dealer, was convicted of Guerin’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Although not the man who pulled the trigger, he had disposed of both the pistol and the motorcycle used by two accomplices in the shooting. Another man, Brian Meehan, was accused of driving the motorcycle and sentenced to life imprisonment in July 1999.

John “The Monk” Gilligan, suspected of leading the gang, was also charged with murder. In October 1999, he lost a three-year fight against extradition from England, where he was being held on separate drug charges, and was sent back to Ireland on Feb. 3, 2000, to face proceedings in the Special Criminal Court.

Veronica Guerin devoted her career and life to exposing the drug barons and leading figures in Dublin’s underworld. “I am simply doing my job,” she said. “I am letting the public know how this society operates.” She paid the ultimate price for her pursuit of truth.