Inside cops’ successful battle to smash Drogheda gangs’ bloody drug war involving 200 thugs – as hoods look to fill void
- Published: 7:00, 7 Feb 2023
- Updated: 7:47, 7 Feb 2023
MORE than 200 people were connected to the feuding gangs at the height of the chaos in Drogheda, the Irish Sun can reveal.
Mobsters from bosses down to gang members, associates, runners, spotters, partners and vulnerable teenagers were identified by investigators probing the deadly war.
And while gardai have enjoyed successes against the factions led by Owen Maguire and Cornelius Price on one side and associates of Paul Crosby on the other, efforts to halt organised crime are still ongoing in the resolute Co Louth town.
While more than 500 people have been brought before the courts as part of Operation Stratus, we can reveal that over 80 drug dealers are still operating in an area with a population of 68,000 people as new gangs attempt to step into the void left by the Garda successes against the feuding factions.
Chief Supt Alan McGovern told the Irish Sun: “The last four years have without doubt been the most challenging in the proud history of this town.
“Drogheda was going through difficult times in relation to the emergence of organised crime groups, unprecedented levels of violence and anti-social behaviour.
“A knock-on effect from this type of criminal behaviour that led to a sense of fear within the community is that it wasn’t just impacting negatively on members of the community but also having a negative impact on its economic and social fabric.
“As a result of the investment into policing, many of those responsible have now been brought to justice or are in the process of being brought to justice.”
As Crosby, 27 and Gerard Cruise, 48, await their sentences for their involvement in the barbaric killing of 17-year-old Keane Mulready Woods in January 2020, we can reveal how Operation Stratus has helped transform Drogheda.
The huge Garda operation — which involved uniformed officers, local detective units, local district drug units, the Armed Support Unit and the Emergency Response Unit — was launched in July 2018 after a failed hit on Maguire, 38.
Since then, officers have investigated a staggering 8,000 incidents, gathered 22,000 pieces of intelligence, undertook over 7,400 patrols and set up 4,000 checkpoints.
They also made over 1,000 seizures of drugs, were involved in over 800 searches and recovered almost €3.8million worth of illegal substances including heroin, cocaine and amphetamine.
Officers have also made huge cash seizures, with €330,000 being recovered in one operation.
Machine guns and a sawnoff Beretta shotgun have also been seized.
Despite the successes against the two factions, Gardai have vowed to continue the offensive against all organised crime in the area as part of their role within the Drogheda Implantation Board, which was established by the Department of Justice to address key issues in the town.
Chief Supt Alan McGovern explained: “The investment enabled us to establish Operation Stratus which targeted organised crime in the area.
“We detected and dismantled organised crime gangs, seized firearms, ammunition, pipe bombs and we have over 500 people before the courts for drug-related offences.
“Proactive enforcement of the law from our drugs unit and gardai in Drogheda has seen visible reductions in crime and anti-social behaviour, making Drogheda a more attractive place to live and do business.”
The senior officer added: “Investment in our community policing team has helped us contribute to enhancing the lives of the people of Drogheda.
“We look forward to building on our excellent relationship with the local community.
“Our community policing team was recently described at a national level as a benchmark for community policing across the country.
“We are also proud winners of the ‘Best Non For Profit’ organisation at the Drogheda and District Business Chamber awards.”
Following the attempted hit on Maguire, gardai probed a series of pipe bombings, six attempted murders, assaults, stabbings, kidnappings and arson attacks as the one-time associates split into two factions.
Both sides also used social media to taunt each other.
Gardai in Drogheda were also assisted by the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Criminal Assets Bureau and have also utilised anti-gangland legislation to target the violent criminals.
Supt Andrew Watters, from Drogheda Garda station, said the fight against organised crime in the area would continue.
FUED ISN’T OVER
Supt Watters said: “Operation Stratus involved every unit in Drogheda and we have developed a resilience and level of expertise due to the high volumes of crimes we were dealing with.
“At the height of the feud we worked hard to get the trust of the people of Drogheda and we will continue to work closely with them.
“We are in a much better place now but we can’t say the feud is over and we have to keep evaluating and monitoring the situation.
“The success of Operation Stratus is a result of all our policing units working together alongside our colleagues in the national units.
“The support from the local community was incredible and decent hard-working people were living in fear.
“We needed extra resources to confront this and we have more visibility on our streets to reassure residents.
“Anyone who wants to talk to us about any form of crime will be treated in a confidential, sensitive and professional manner.”
During the course of the feud, Maguire’s associates murdered Keith Brannigan and Richard Carberry in the second half of 2019.
‘MORE THAN POLICING’
This was followed by the killing of Keane Mulready Woods in January 2020.
The chief suspect for the teenager’s killing was hitman Robbie Lawlor, who was shot dead in Belfast in April 2021.
At present, Maguire remains holed up at his home in the town, while his sidekick Price is seriously ill at a hospital in Wales.
Michael Keogh, Chair of Drogheda Implementation Board, welcomed the Gardai’s ongoing efforts to combat crime.
Mr Keogh said: “Without the investment in the Gardai and the good work being done by Chief Supt McGovern, his predecessor Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan, Supt Andrew Watters and their teams it would be impossible for Drogheda Implementation Board to deliver actions to address Community Safety and Wellbeing in Drogheda as set out in Vivien Geiran’s Report.
“Community safety is about more than policing and An Garda Siochána are essential and very active partners in the work of the Board, working alongside statutory and community sector colleagues addressing a broad range of issues to enhance and improve the quality of life for the people of Drogheda.”