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Why Tommy Crossan had so many enemies

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday Life)

Tommy Crossan was a man with a long list of enemies and three years ago I met some of those then out to get him.

A trio of masked and armed men, who were once his closest comrades in the Continuity IRA, delivered a chilling warning.

"Tommy isn't safe here. If he wants to live, he has to leave Ireland," their spokesman said. So much did he loathe Crossan that the gunman stressed he thought his leadership's decision to give his old friend the chance to escape alive was far too lenient.

"They've shown mercy. Personally, I'd rather do it the old way. I'd put a bullet in his head and leave him like a teabag by the side of the road." Three years later, that scenario came horrifically true.

Days after the threats against him, Tommy Crossan contacted me. "I'm going nowhere. I'm here to stay," he said as he denied allegations he was a police informer and mired in criminality.

He talked the talk as he posed for photographs on a West Belfast street to show he wasn't afraid. But his body language and jerky sentences told a different story. Tommy Crossan was seriously scared.

At the time of his death, he was still up to his old tricks – robbing whatever he could and extorting money from drug dealers. He was never popular but the circles in which he ran had become smaller and smaller.

He worked with a group of criminals from Belfast, Newry and Strabane, some of whom are former republican prisoners.

He was persona non grata with the 'new' IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann, and CIRA. They all believed he was a tout.

Crossan was too obvious to be truly effective as a security force agent. Despite extensive paramilitary and criminal activity in the last decade and a half, he notably avoided prison.

In 2008, he received a suspended sentence for involvement in a plot to extort £50,000 from a Dungannon businessman. His co-accused, Martin Overend, was jailed for nine years. Such unlimited luck gave Crossan red flag status.

Once, he ordered that weapons be lifted from CIRA arms dumps across the city and stored centrally in another CIRA member's flat – where they were swiftly seized by police.

Crossan was allegedly seen meeting his handlers at Shaws Bridge in Belfast. When this was raised with him at a regular support group meeting for republican prisoners in West Belfast, he turned white and never returned to the meetings.

The CIRA faction threatening Crossan, which I met in July 2011, detailed why he was on their hit list. He had orchestrated tiger kidnappings and cash-in-transit van robberies but kept the money, rather than handing it over to the terror group.

He had also committed the cardinal sin, in republican eyes, of robbing small local businesses including some owned by ex-prisoners. His erstwhile comrades also claimed he had set up his own personal robbery squads using CIRA as a cover.

"He was recruiting young lads who thought they were joining Continuity. But they weren't greenbooked (sworn in by the IRA rule book) so they weren't members.

"These lads thought the money from the robberies was buying weapons for Continuity. Instead, it was going straight into Tommy Crossan's pockets," the spokesman for the faction said.

Crossan took one young lad, who wanted to stop robbing bookies, into the back of a van and beat him so severely that he needed extensive counselling.

When I met Crossan, he denied all allegations of criminality against him: "It's lies. I hardly ever leave the house. If I've stolen hundreds of thousands, why have I a very ordinary lifestyle? I haven't a pot to p*** in."

His murder bore all the hallmarks of a paramilitary execution. No dissident organisation has yet claimed responsibility. But one thing is certain – at republican commemorations across the city today, few will mourn Tommy Crossan.

April 21, 2014

This article appeared in the April 20, 2014 edition of the Sunday Life.

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