I'll never forget: 'Dead? Veronica Guerin? She couldn’t be...'
Every Irish journalist remembers where they were the day that Veronica Guerin was shot dead in Dublin.
On June 26, 1996, I was at the "stone" (look it up young 'uns) at the Irish Independent watching the printers finish up the late edition of the Evening Herald.
The front page was finished and sent down to the camera when then editor Paul Drury hung up from a phone conversation and shouted “hold the front page.”
Contrary to popular belief, you rarely hear “hold the front page” in a newsroom, and we knew whatever it was, it was going to be huge.
“Veronica’s been shot,” he said, referring to the crime reporter at our sister newspaper, the Sunday Independent.
“Is she all right?” I remember asking as his words began to settle.
“No,” he said, “the guards think she’s dead.”
Dead? Veronica? She couldn’t be.
It was a beautiful sunny June day, we were trying to get finished to go watch the European soccer finals, and Veronica couldn’t be dead. I’d seen her only the previous week with her son Cathal outside the paper, running, as ever, late for something.
As the Evening Herald redid its front page, the Gardai (police) rang and asked the paper to hold off reporting the story until they could contact her husband Graham.
It was one of the longest hours ever in Independent House. Phones went unanswered, copy went unfilled as stunned journalists sat there and waited for the all-clear from the police, so we could report that one of our colleagues had been shot dead.
It was inconceivable that a journalist had been killed in the Republic. No one in Ireland seriously believed that any criminal would assassinate a journalist.
I had known Veronica since 1994 when I was working as a stand-in copy editor on the Sunday Independent. She had written a complicated story about corruption, and the libel lawyers insisted I contact her as they wanted to change several paragraphs. When I reached her at home she was surprisingly friendly about making the corrections and we hammered out a different version.
I say “surprisingly” because some of the headline writers for the Sunday Independent would (and did!) chew me up into pieces for having the temerity to suggest any changes.
Anyway, by the time we had finished reworking the piece, the lawyers said it was still too libelous and the story was spiked.
I chatted to Veronica for a while longer, apologized for bothering her at home on a Friday night and came off the phone with a completely different impression of her. Some writers would rather stab the copy editor to death than change a word in the story, while others accept it as the necessary evil it is in Ireland. Veronica, while unhappy that the story was being changed, was not taking it as personal affront.
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