The Rathkeale Gang are well Organised, and believed, to be worth Millions.

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CAGED Drug dealer jailed for 10 years over machete attack had been target of CAB

The victim suffered deep cuts to his head and face from the two-and-a-half-foot rusty weapon and feared he’d lose his arm

John O'Donoghue. Photo: Sunday World

John O’Donoghue. Photo: Sunday World

December 27 2021 08:30 AM

A CRIMINAL Assets Bureau target and convicted drug dealer has been jailed for 10 years for a machete attack in which his victim thought he was going to die.

Described in court as a leading member of Rathkeale’s traveller-trader community John O’Donoghue (53) had shown “no remorse” for the savage assault in December 2017.

The fact that he had been convicted of assault causing harm in 2003 to the victim’s son was an added factor, according to Judge Patrick Meghen.

This week the sentence was handed down after a week-long trial last month in which a jury found him guilty of the attack on 74-year-old Willie O’Driscoll.

He was also found guilty of violent disorder but found not guilty of making threats to kill.

The attack happened at the time of year when many families who have ties to Rathkeale return there for the Christmas period and for family gatherings.

Willie O’Driscoll had been in the town for the first time in 17 years to attend a niece’s engagement party when the unprovoked attack happened at nine in the morning.

Members of the O’Driscoll family were effectively held at bay by men armed with weapons as Willie O’Driscoll was attacked by O’Donoghue wielding a two-and-a-half-foot long rusty machete.

One of his sons described seeing it being used in a chopping motion.

The injured man suffered deep cuts to his head and face and there were fears his arm would fall off because it was so deeply cut.

In his victim impact statement Willie O’Driscoll, a former antiques dealer, said “I thought I was going to die.”

He said the attack has left him afraid to go for walk, panicky if a door bangs or he hears shouts and is aware of his scarred appearance.

O’Donoghue who had pleaded not guilty said he had been the victim of an attack and the injuries were inflicted on O’Driscoll by another man trying to get at him.

It was suggested there was bad blood because O’Donoghue had eloped with O’Driscoll’s niece years previously before marrying her.

In court this week it was heard how O’Donoghue began casual trading at the age of 14, moved to the US when he was 21 and spent 10 years working in Germany.

He spends 11 months of the year outside of Ireland and several testimonials from people were handed into the court to show the “other side” of his character.

At Christmas last year he ­approached gardaí to organise a public meeting to encourage young people in Rathkeale for the holidays to stick to Covid regulations.

But also revealed how O’Donoghue had been the target of the Criminal Assets Bureau and the UK’s National Crime Agency.

CAB officers carried out raids in Rathkeale

CAB officers carried out raids in Rathkeale

In December 2016 CAB officers called at his Rathkeale home in a series of raids on premises in the town. This was part of Operation Oakleaf, an investigation into an organised crime gang.

The searches were conducted at seven private residences and four premises in the Limerick area.

CAB officers seized “a significant amount of cash as well as a large volume of documents and other evidence related to assets”, gardaí said at the time.

“The CAB investigation relates to suspected criminal activity by an organised crime gang in Ireland, the UK and Europe.”

O’Donoghue was previously ­targeted by the UK’s National Crime Agency as he set up a cannabis deal in Salford in 2013.

In February of that year he travelled from Belfast to Liverpool for three days of ‘business meetings’.

One of his meetings was with Paul O’Dee, a convicted drugs supplier, previously jailed for his role in a st£15 million smuggling plot.

The men met at a car wash on the Manchester Road in Salford, unaware that NCA officers were watching and listening.

He was arrested the following month and searches of his address in Belfast showed he hadn’t lived there for some time and the electricity wasn’t working in the property.

Police officers from Greater Manchester Police also arrested Paul O’Dee and searches of his properties resulted in the seizure of cash totalling st£25,847 and a false passport.

O’Donoghue pleaded guilty to facilitating drug trafficking deals for organised crime groups both in the UK and Ireland and was given a two-year suspended sentence.

During the ­sentence hearing at Manchester Crown Court the judge said: “O’Donoghue played a leading role in directing and organising this conspiracy and stood to make substantial gain – he used sophisticated techniques in planning his criminal activities.”

He said that O’Donoghue attempted to fool law enforcement by using slang terms such as ‘kryptonite’, ‘amnesia’, and ‘PPS’ when he talked about trafficking the Class B drug.

In January 2017 O’Donoghue was back in court again, this time in Newcastle West charged with threatening and abusive behaviour towards the CAB officers searching his home in 2016. Also charged was his son Fred after the pair became aggressive towards gardaí carrying out the early morning search.

According to Garda evidence both men had to be restrained and ­arrested, but there was no question of an assault.

The men’s solicitor explained in court that the search began at 5.30am and there was a “considerable amount of upset in the house”.

“Mr O’Donoghue Snr didn’t object to the search but he was of the understanding he and another member of his family could be present during it. That didn’t turn out to be the situation. He and others were confined to the kitchen.”

When O’Donoghue objected it “turned into some sort of argument.

“This incident occurred two hours after the search began.”

They were both fined €300 each.

In October 2017 Rathkeale came to a standstill when an explosive device was left near O’Donoghue’s house.

Gardaí and the Army bomb squad sealed off the Main Street and evacuated residents.

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