SLIPPING the bag of heroin through his 100th letterbox that day, 12-year-old Joey O'Callaghan caught sight of the little girl watching TV inside the house.
Sitting between her unconscious parents, the tiny child's ears pricked at the familiar sound and she walked over, crouching down to collect the package of brown stones.
Knowing exactly what to do, she then took the drugs to her sprawled-out mum, shaking her awake.
It was a heartbreaking scene – yet for drug runner Joey, it was just one of countless sights that sickened him to the core as he delivered smack for a notorious Irish gangster.
Barely out of primary school when he was groomed into a life of crime, Joey spent years being fed cocaine, brutally beaten and even shot at by ruthless drug kingpin Brian Kenny.
He called me 'Joey The Lips'
He also claims he was raped by Kenny, who branded him "Joey The Lips" and forced him to live in his countryside hideout, packed with an arsenal of guns and stolen goods.
Threatened with death if he tried to escape, Joey had no way out – yet when Kenny carried out a cold-blooded assassination, he finally broke the golden bond of gangland silence and went to police.
His evidence saw Kenny and mobster Thomas Hinchon caged for murder – with brave Joey, then aged 19, becoming the youngest ever person to enter the Witness Protection Programme.
Now, nearly two decades on, Joey is set to release an explosive new book – The Witness, with investigative journalist Nicola Tallant – about his ordeal at the hands of "Jekyll and Hyde" Kenny.
And in his first UK interview ahead of the book's publication this week, he tells Sun Online that he is still living as a "ghost", fearing one day he will be shot dead by the gangsters.
“I could die any day now. There's probably a good chance I’m going to die with a bullet because of what I’ve done," says Joey, now 35 and living under a different identity.
There's a good chance I’m going to die with a bullet because of what I’ve done
“I’ve been in a room by myself for the last 16 years. I can go to the shop, but I have to wear a bulletproof vest, a mask, a hat, a scarf around my face.
“There’s alarms all over my house, CCTV cameras everywhere. I have a panic alarm with me, all my windows are bulletproof.
"That’s the way I live my life.”
Speaking via video call from a secret location, he adds: "I’ve done the sentence with them. The only difference between me and Kenny and Hinchon is I can open my door, they can’t."
Joey, who spent time in England while in witness protection, first met Kenny in Blanchardstown, west Dublin, where the youngster and his family lived near infamous heroin gang The Westies.
At the time, Kenny was working as a milkman, knocking on doors to find new customers. But with Joey home alone, the gangster found a new recruit who could deliver milk and, eventually, something much deadlier.
“My Mam came home from work and I was like, ‘Oh my god Ma, you won’t believe it, I’m actually getting a job'," Joey recalls.
"I was so happy, I was absolutely thrilled."
From delivering milk to running heroin
At first, the schoolboy thought he was earning pocket money by simply delivering bottles of milk and collecting dockets around the estates – something he'd seen other boys doing.
"I know I’m small but I can run real fast," he eagerly promised Kenny, who had reassured Joey's mum his new job was keeping him away from The Westies across the road.
Yet as the summer holidays began and his shifts increased, Joey got his first glimpse of Kenny's violent side when the milkman beat up a young boy who had allegedly stolen from him.
"Brian stopped the van, took a hammer out from underneath the seat, jumped out, chased him, got him on the ground and smashed him all up," claims Joey.
"I could hear his screams, bones crack, everything."
Afterwards, Kenny used milk to wash the blood off his hands. Then, in his first of endless threats to Joey, he snarled: "That’s what’ll happen if you ever rob owt from me."
Brian got him on the ground and smashed him all up with a hammer. I could hear his screams, bones crack, everything
Days later, still traumatised by what he'd witnessed, Joey found himself being handed a bag of heroin during a milk round. Though he didn't know exactly what it was, he could guess it was drugs.
"Brian said, 'You put it through the letterbox and you don’t move until you hear it drop. And make sure it f***ing drops," Joey tells us.
"I remember putting my hand through the door to drop it and the guy was actually at the other side, waiting for me. This was at 4am."
He adds: “I didn’t even know what anxiety was, but I knew I was afraid… my body was shaking, my hands were sweating.”
“I remember going home, lying in bed and thinking, 'What if that guy dies? I gave him that, my fingerprints are on it'."
Before long, Joey was being forced to deliver up to 300 bags a night. Later in the week, he'd collect £4,000 in smack payments along with the milk money, handing every penny to Kenny.
“I saw awful sights," Joey says.
"Kids on the rounds with their nappies hanging off them. Broken windows, boards up. It was just pure poverty, it was sadness.
"I remember one guy didn’t pay and [Kenny] went in and chopped him up with a machete. In the van, he had a gun under the seat.”
If Joey told anyone about the business, Kenny warned him, heroin would be planted in his mum's car. But incredibly, the illicit deliveries were only the start of the youngster's nightmare.
Drugged with cocaine & Valium
When the new school term started, Kenny refused to let Joey go back – instead giving him lines of cocaine to "revv" him up for the deliveries, and Valium to help his comedowns.
The gangster, Joey claims, also sexually abused him. What started off as lewd comments about Joey's lips – like “Oh the boys would love that" – allegedly turned into sex attacks and rape.
"Brian was like Jekyll and Hyde," says Joey.
"One minute he could be hugging me, telling me I was his son and he loved me, the next minute he’d be beating the s*** out of me or abusing me."
Eventually, Kenny – who modelled himself on telly gangster Tony Soprano – even forced Joey to move into his CCTV-laden mobsters' paradise, which was surrounded by an electric fence.
“If you tried to escape, you’d get electrocuted," says Joey.
"It was just a nightmare.”
'Raped' in gangster's man cave
At the mansion, Kenny would allegedly rape Joey in his 'man cave'.
He also started raiding mobile homes, stealing cars, and sending the teenager out on a motorbike to collect heroin, after his milk rounds drugs business was foiled by cops.
"This time, we were selling more than we ever were," Joey claims.
"We went from little bags to ounces. We’d have jeeps coming from England and they’d be full of heroin."
Unbeknown to his family – who, "like everyone", believed Kenny was a good guy – Joey would spend his spare time weighing and bagging drugs in his attic bedroom.
"If I wasn’t bagging it, I was delivering it. It was 24 hours, seven days a week. Christmas morning, I’d be out delivering heroin," he recalls.
By the time he turned 18, Joey had started wearing gloves to bag the drugs because when he put his hands to his face, his lips were numb for hours. Trapped in Kenny's grip, he felt helpless.
Bloody gangland hit
But everything changed in 2004, when Kenny and accomplice Hinchon murdered 25-year-old Jonathan O'Reilly as he sat in a car outside a Dublin prison in a bloody gangland hit.
After the shooting, Joey claims, the pair returned to the mansion, washed themselves with petrol, then ordered him to chop up the clothes they'd been wearing and boil them on the stove.
“[Kenny] called me into the kitchen, handed me a gun and said, 'Go out to the field and hide that now'," he adds.
"I just didn’t know what to do. We hid everything in the field. We had loads of stuff in the field – drugs, guns, money.
"But no-one had ever been murdered.”
At first, Kenny and Hinchon feared O'Reilly might not have died. But, Joey says, once it was confirmed he had, "they were celebrating, jumping up and down, doing coke, smoking heroin, cheers-ing drinks".
From then on, Joey knew he was living on borrowed time.
Armed with Kenny and Hinchon's biggest secret, the teenager began thinking: "The only way I'm getting out is to be dragged across that field to be buried.”
Sometimes he used to hit me with a sewer rod and I couldn’t even walk. Without being rude, sometimes I was p***ing blood
His fears escalated when Kenny allegedly forced him to stand in the field and fired a shotgun above his head and at either side of his body.
As Joey stood shaking, the gangster then shoved the weapon in his mouth.
"He said, 'Look I could just blow your head off now, stick you in the ditch over there, and no-one would ever find you'," claims Joey.
He adds: “The rape got worse, the abuse got worse.
“Sometimes he used to hit me with a sewer rod and I couldn’t even walk. Without being rude, sometimes I was p***ing blood.”
‘Joey’s life was no movie’
AWARD-winning investigative journalist and The Witness author Nicola Tallant says children being groomed into drug gangs can't be ignored as something that "just happens in working-class areas".
She tells Sun Online: “Joey O'Callaghan's story is so important in so many ways not least that he had a ringside seat in the secretive world of gangland for so long and is able to articulate what that is like in its rawest form.
"Joey's life was no movie, there was no happy ending.
"The fact that he was groomed into a drug gang as a young child and how that was done is a hugely important social issue for all of us and cannot be ignored by middle-class society as something that just happens in working-class areas.
"Many children are vulnerable to being picked up by gangs and it is something that we need to look at in the same way we do paedophilia."
Nicola adds: "His experiences on the Witness Protection Programme give us a rare insight into a secretive and unaccountable world funded by the state and supposed to be a measure of society standing shoulder to shoulder with people who 'do the right thing'.
"Joey was used and abused by Brian Kenny but we also have to accept the grim fact that the same was done to him by the state.
"I have worked on the cutting edge of organised crime reporting for years. It is a dark place but I have learned to always look and listen and to show respect because sometimes there are good people there who don't belong. Joey was one of them."
Amid his own terror, Joey couldn't stop thinking about Jonathan's family.
Eventually, despite knowing it could cut short his own life, he made the brave decision to escape from Kenny's home and report the murder and his boss to the Gardai.
“I knew Jonathan deserved justice, his family deserved justice," he tells us. "I accepted my fate. I thought at least if I’m going to die, I’m going to die doing the right thing."
Caged for murder
As a state witness, Joey's evidence won murder convictions against Kenny, then 36, and Hinchon, 25, who were jailed for life. The pair were also convicted of threatening to kill Joey.
In the following years, Joey experienced life on the Witness Protection Programme – which he describes in detail in his and Nicola's book. He says a lack of support left him destitute, alone and suicidal.
The courageous young man even spiralled back into drug use as he tried to fend for himself, while relocated miles away from his loved ones. Because of his ordeal, he says, he remains "living like a ghost".
It was Joey's devoted mum who "dragged him back from Hell".
He speaks fondly of her during our chat, saying she's his biggest supporter despite having her windows smashed, rats sprayed onto her home and her car nearly set alight.
"I don’t think I’d be alive today if I hadn’t had her," he says, "because the world gave up on me and she was the person who still wanted me."
'I live every day like it's my last'
Today, Joey – who ended up getting signed off the Programme – says he's in the best place he's ever been, with a job and regular medication, though he is rarely able to see his family.
When he does, he says, it's like a "military operation".
"I try to live every day just like it’s my last," he says. "A lot of people don’t appreciate the moment until it’s gone. I don’t make long-term goals, I make short-term goals.”
Whenever he goes to work, Joey takes a different route and sneaks his bulletproof vest in with him. He shows us the protective vest during our call, lying within reach of him.
He says, over the years, he's become aware of bounties on his head. Though, he claims, gangland hits are carried out for as little as £2,000 a pop, his murder comes at a premium because he's considered "a rat".
“One time I was told it was £5,000 – another time it was £75,000," he says.
In recent years and months, Joey has become more fearful of his life, with Kenny being allowed out on day release to see his family and even being moved to an open prison.
But he says every time he thinks of Jonathan's mum – and her joy at getting justice – he knows he's done the right thing. He even carries a picture of Jonathan in his wallet in his memory.
"Until Kenny and Hinchon get me, I don’t think they’ll ever stop," says Joey, a father of two.
But he adds: “I have no regrets and I’d do it again tomorrow.
“They can come after me all they want. They’re going to have to kill me because I’m going to keep fighting until the day I die to keep them two locked up.”
- The Witness by Nicola Tallant is published by Mirror Books on September 3, 2020 (RRP £12.99)
Source: Read Full Article