By Press Association
Additional reporting by Digital Desk Staff
A convicted criminal considered a key suspect in the kidnapping and torture of a Northern Ireland businessman has died during a police raid in England.
The suspect, understood to be known gangster and smuggler Cyril McGuinness, was taken ill while Derbyshire Police were searching a house he was staying in in the Buxton area on Friday morning.
Searches are taking place at a number of locations in Ireland and the UK this morning in relation to Lunney’s abduction and torture.
As well as the operation in Derbyshire, five locations in Co Cavan, three locations in Co Longford and four locations in Dublin are also being searched. Meanwhile, the PSNI is also searching four homes and a business in Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he warmly welcomes the establishment by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI of a Joint Investigation Team to address the attacks on Quinn Industrial Holdings and its management.
“This is the first ever Joint Investigation Team established involving An Garda Síochána. This is a significant step forward and I commend the Garda Commissioner and his counterparts in PSNI management for taking this initiative which has been in preparation for some time.”
He added that he is confident the Gardaí and their partners in the PSNI will use the opportunities presented by the team to bring to justice those involved in the heinous attacks.
“I am in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner who has assured me that An Garda Síochána, and their counterparts in Northern Ireland, will continue their relentless pursuit of the criminals involved in this case and, indeed, all those engaged in cross border criminality on this island.
“The Irish Government is absolutely determined to ensure that everything is done to guarantee community safety and the preservation and enhancement of the Rule of Law in our country.”
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton is urging the public to be patient while they work to bring those responsible to justice: “This is just one phase of our investigation. We’ve come public today with what we’re doing and I’m just asking you to be patient with us.
“The investigations are time consuming but they are very exacting. We’re just asking the public to stay patient with us, and we will come forward hopefully in the future with more developments.”
Mr Lunney, 50, was abducted outside his home near Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, and taken to a horsebox across the border, where he was savagely beaten.
His attackers broke his leg, sliced his fingernails and face with a Stanley knife, carved QIH on his chest, and doused the father-of-six in bleach.
The attack, during which his assailants demanded his resignation, was the most serious in a five-year campaign of intimidation targeting the companies and directors that now control the business portfolio which was built up by fallen tycoon Sean Quinn, once Ireland’s richest man.
At a press conference in Dublin to announce that police had launched an all-Ireland joint investigation into the QIH attacks, Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistance Chief Constable Mark Hamilton described the death as “very regrettable”.
“The PSNI commissioned a search in England with the support of the police officers there and a report has been that a man has died, which is very regrettable,” he said.
“That is now a matter of investigation in England separate to this ongoing inquiry.”
McGuinness, originally from the Derrylin area, went by the nickname “Dublin Jimmy”.
It is understood he was being treated as a main suspect in the investigation into Mr Lunney’s abduction.
It is thought that McGuinness, who was well known to the authorities on both sides of the border, was “lying low” in England amid the intense public and police focus on the crime.
Mr Lunney spoke publicly about his ordeal for the first time this week in a powerful TV interview.
A sinister element in the community in the Fermanagh/Cavan border area, where the QIH companies are based, continues to vent anger at the demise of Mr Quinn’s empire.
The Quinn family have consistently condemned and distanced themselves from those attacking the new owners.
Prior to Friday, no-one had been arrested, with police on both sides of the border under mounting pressure to bring the perpetrators to justice.
On Friday morning, the Garda searched five locations in County Cavan, three locations in County Longford and four in Dublin. The premises were a mixture of domestic dwellings and commercial business premises.
The PSNI searched five locations in Derrylin.
Mr Hamilton was speaking at Garda headquarters with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to announce that police and prosecutors on both sides of the border had agreed to establish a landmark “joint investigation” into the intimidation campaign.
Mr Harris described the agreement, which will be overseen by EU law and order agency Eurojust, as an “important advance”.
“These (attacks) have been obviously a subject of public concern lately and we want to be seen to act in a strong and robust way to show that there’s no room for criminality anywhere on the island of Ireland and that, as police services, we are co-operating in the strongest fashion possible to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said.
On the reported death in Derbyshire, Mr Harris said: “That is our understanding, but that matter happened within a search in England and that is being pursued by the authorities there.”
Asked if the joint investigation would be targeting the “paymaster” behind the intimidation campaign, Mr Hamilton urged “patience”.
He said Friday’s searches represented “one phase” of the probe and there would be “other phases to come”.
Mr Hamilton added: “We have made a significant effort to try to make sure the people of Fermanagh feel safe during this period and we are working very collaboratively on both sides of the border to do that.”
Similarly, Mr Harris said gardai were committed to keeping the people of Co Cavan safe.
“These are well-resourced investigations, they are proceeding, they are making progress,” he said.
“At the same time, we have made a commitment to the policing of Co Cavan and to assure the people of Co Cavan that the rule of law will prevail.”