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Murder In An Irish Town
In September 1988, John Gallagher drove to Lifford, collected a rifle from behind the wardrobe in his father’s bedroom and headed for Sligo, where he murdered his ex-girlfriend Anne Gillespie, and her mother Annie. When the case came to court John Gallagher pleaded – and was found – guilty but insane and he was remanded to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. In July 2000, Gallagher successfully escaped from Dundrum and absconded to England, before returning to Northern Ireland, where he was able to live freely, because of the unique absence of an extradition treaty for people in his position. Earlier this month, in a bizarre twist, apparently in the hope of taking advantage of a bequest from his father, Gallagher turned up at the Central Mental Hospital and handed himself in. It’s open to him to apply to the Health Review Board for release on the grounds that he does not now suffer from a mental illness. The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, has already acknowledged the possibility that he might be released within a matter of weeks. But as far back as 1991, in a special investigation carried out for Hot Press, Eamonn McCann questioned the original verdict of the court – and whether Gallagher was ever ‘insane’ within the meaning intended by the act. In the light of the growing controversy about the case, we reprint here in full the extraordinary story as it was originally published in Hot Press.
Eamonn McCann, 12 Jun 2012
As she reached her 18th birthday and had passed her Leaving, Anne’s horizons were widening. She talked to one friend about Green Cards and Donnelly Visas and the possibility of working in the United States. It was idle conversation, not practical planning. But it’s notable that the potential stumbling-block she mentioned in relation to the idea had to do with her leaving Annie alone – not John Gallagher.
At the same time, Gallagher’s possessiveness towards her seemed to intensify. A friend recalls: “Some nights when she was working in the shop from seven to ten, he’d sit outside in the car the whole time, waiting for her to finish”.
She was hurt when he went to the Michael Jackson concert in Cork in late July 1988 in a party which included other girls, leaving her behind. For the first time, according to relatives, she was openly angry. “If I did that to him he’d go mad”. They began having rows, culminating at the incident at Jacksons’s. The writing was on the wall for the relationship - but ominously John Gallagher desperately wanted to turn the clock back, to revive the fantasy of future happiness together that he’d created.
In the days immediately after the row at the wedding and the “strangling” in the car, Gallagher made a number of efforts to persuade Anne to have him back. He called at her home on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. He bought her a watch to replace the one he’d broken while struggling with her on the Sunday. He repeatedly promised to mend his ways. Anne was non-committal when speaking to him, but made it clear to her friends that she wanted a clean break.
On Wednesday evening she told Annie she was frightened. She couldn’t find a way of ending the relationship and feared that Gallagher might come to the house after school the next day. Annie was scheduled to visit her mother in Sligo, so Anne would be alone. Annie told her to talk to a teacher the next morning, ask for advice.
The class teacher advised Anne to phone Gallagher’s parents and explain her dilemma, which she did in her lunch break. She told her teacher that John’s mother had appeared sympathetic, but that his father had seemed upset that she wanted to end the relationship.