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(C) Underbelly Magazine 2018

Manus O’Donnell: The Contractor


Manus “Manny” O’Donnell was born in Donegal, Ireland. He came over to Glasgow in the early 1970’s. Glasgow was changing, the old slums were being pulled down, and new houses built, other housing schemes were being renovated.

In 1980, O’Donnell and another man from the Newcastle area named Roy Austick approached Glasgow Corporation. They bid for contracts in Blackhill and Knightswood laying cables and redoing the garden paths and drying areas during the area's regeneration. O’Donnell and Austick made a lot of money from these contracts. Then Glasgow Corporation extended the contracts to other areas that were going through the same regeneration.

O’Donnell was a flash man, he liked to show he had money. He wore designer suits, drove flash cars and was dripped in jewellery. He was rarely seen without a beautiful woman draped on his arm.

His company did work in the Falklands after the war. O'Donnell also claimed to have been friendly with Prince Andrew - who served there as a helicopter pilot.

’Donnell made friends in high places, and secured significant contracts with the Ministry of Defence and his company did work at the RNAD nuclear submarine plant at Coulport on the Clyde. A lot of people found this strange, O’Donnell was known as an outspoken supporter and financial backer of the IRA. He even deducted a tax of £10 a week from each of his workers - donating this to the IRA. If workers complained about this, they were sacked on the spot. This is how O’Donnell became known as The Contractor.

He mixed with some of the most dangerous gangland figures in Glasgow. A close friend of Irish gangster John "The Irishman" Friel, O'Donnell was also friendly with Arthur "The Godfather" Thompson - and his sworn enemy, Tam "The Licensee" McGraw.

Thorugh John Friels connection to Thornliebank crime boss John Healy, O'Donnell was introduced to Stewart Boyd - a well known gangland enforcer from Glasgow's south side.

John Friel

O’Donnell wanted to supply heroin to a few dealers in the Nitshill area and asked Boyd if this could be done without causing problems. Boyd told O’Donnell as long as the cut was thrown his way he didn’t have a problem. A meeting was set up. The meeting was to take place on the Tuxedo Princess -The floating nightclub docked at Glasgow s Broomalaw late on a Saturday night. Boyd had approached two well known dealers from the Nitshill area to sell for O'Donnell and of course to keep an eye on what he was moving, amounts, money etc.. On the Saturday night, the two men and a woman friend turned up at the boat and told the bouncers they were here to see Manny.

All three were searched before they were allowed downstairs to see O’Donnell. The two men had nothing on them, but when the woman’s bag was searched a large Bowie knife was found in her handbag.

The bouncer went downstairs, then came back up and said: Manny will see the two men but the woman was to stay upstairs. The bouncer took the two men downstairs where O’Donnell was sitting surrounded by minders.

As soon as the men stepped up onto the VIP area O’Donnell began screaming at them, “Who the fuck you do think you are coming to a meeting with me tooled up?" One of the men explained to O’Donnell that he went nowhere without his blade - he even slept with it he explained....trying to make light of the situation, O’Donnell was pissed off and the argument got a bit personal, threats were made by each side. The two men knew they were outnumber and unarmed. So they stood up and walked out with O’Donnell still screaming threats at them as they left.

The three left the boat and were walking towards their car when the younger of the two men spotted O’Donnell’s silver Mercedes, with it's M.O.D registration plate. He turned to the woman and said, “Give me that the blade." He walked around the car and stuck every tyre. He then ran it along each side of the paintwork. They laughed to each other as they got in their car and drove off.

The next morning the older of the two men was awoken with his door being hammered. Thinking it was the police he jumped up got dressed and went down to open the door, as he got to the door it burst open. Two men wearing ski masks and speaking with Irish accents and also armed with handguns forced their way in.They put the gun to the man’s head and asked, “Did you fucking scratch Manny’s car last night”. The man said nothing, the gun was then rammed into his mouth with such force it broke his front teeth. He was then told he would be receiving a bill for the repairs to the car and if he didn’t pay they would be coming back and he would be killed.

Stewart Boyd was then contacted by the man; a man whom he had known from childhood and asked if he had a solid relationship with Manny as the guy wanted to go to O’Donnell’s office in Clarkston and kill him. Stewart Boyd told the man he would deal with it. He told them he had dealings with O’Donnell and did not want to jeopardise his relationship with him until his business dealings were over.

O’Donnell was lucky, the guy - who asked us not to name him - was known to be extremely violent and so was his father. This was not something they would forget, it wasn’t in their nature, and Boyd knew this.


Mary Ryan

O’Donnell’s luck was about to run out; Mary Ryan was an attractive woman with a smart head on her shoulders. Officially, her job with O'Donnell was

helping him run his contracting business and his bars and clubs.

Ryan was also ready to enter into a Escort business with Manny called Pretty Women. She became O'Donnell's constant companion, not just in Glasgow but also on trips to Ireland and Spain.

Mary Ryan has always denied rumours that she was her employer's mistress, saying she was faithful to her then boyfriend: Patrick Devine. O’Donnell had lovers he kept in luxury flats, all expenses paid,. He also had numerous one-night stands and had used expensive call girls, but O'Donnell wanted Mary Ryan. He loved women and this one woman would be his undoing.

On the night of November 19, 1998, after several failed attempts to seduce Ryan, it seemed his luck might be in. The two of them were driving to the Tinto Firs Hotel in Newlands, Glasgow. Another notch on The Contractor's bedpost, he thought. But the next day, in a lovers' lane, near East Kilbride, a man walking his dog saw a tarpaulin lying on the ground, covering something maybe? Curiosity made him remove the heavy canvas. Maybe, it was because he was fed up with the amount of fly tipping in the area. Either way, he lifted the canvas and found a frightful sight staring up at him. O’Donnell lay there dead. He had been mutilated, stabbed more than 20 times and shot with a single barrel shotgun through the chest and then at close range shot to the back of his head. This had resulted in his face being blown off, also the stab and slash wounds, 22 in all were all to the head and neck area.

The police knew who Manny O'Donnell was, and they knew they had a problem. The man had many friends, but he had twice as many enemies. However, this murder looked personal, very personal, frenzied and with most wounds to the face and neck area  the police believed it could be a revenge killing.

Competitors in the vice trade, smaller builders he had ruined and chased out of town, husbands and boyfriends of women he had seduced. Gangsters he kept company with. but almost from the start the cops ruled those options out. They knew O'Donnell had been lured to his death and killed in a brutal but highly orchestrated plan. It had all the hallmarks of a paramilitary operation. There were rumours that Manny had fallen out with the IRA or had the loyalists targeted him?

The police began to unravel the mystery by pulling in two men - William McKinnon, who helped run the Contractor's prostitutes and his driver Francis O'Donnell - no relation.

Francis O'Donnell insisted he had been in Dublin that night and refused to make any other comment.

McKinnon however didn't cope as well with the police interview. Soon he was claiming he knew who the killer was.

Immediately after Manny's death, he and O'Donnell had gone off to Blackpool for a few days. On one long night of boozing, Francis O'Donnell had felt the need to confess: "I done it, I done it with them two bams." , meaning Devine and Ryan.

Patrick Devine

In September 1999, the trial kicked off at the High Court in Glasgow with three people in the dock.

They were Francis O'Donnell, Mary Ryan and Patrick Devine - Ryan's boyfriend. Mary Ryan claimed was with Devine  elsewhere at the time of the murder.

It was a lie, the staff of the Tinto Firs Hotel recalled Ryan drinking there with her boss that night.

Ryan denied conspiring to murder O’Donnell, but she came up with a new story. She claimed they both had set off from the Tinto Firs for a meeting at a hotel in the West End of Glasgow. According to Ryan’s account masked men jumped into the car as they stopped at traffic lights. They then forced her at gunpoint to drive to the place where O'Donnell was executed.

Ryan claimed she knew about none of this and had to beg for her own life. She claimed that after the murder the two masked men gave her back her phone and her car keys and told her to walk away. It did not help her case that she had hired the Renault Megan in which O'Donnell was murdered in. Then phoned the rental company the next morning to report it stolen, when in fact the police had already found the car burned out in Newton Mearns.


If she did not know who the killers were, why did it appear to some she was colluding with them?  The jury did not believe her.

The case against Patrick Devine was found not proven, but both Francis O'Donnell and Mary Ryan were found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years.

At the time, out of all the lifers in Cornton Vale, she was serving the longest sentence. No one had claimed that Mary Ryan physically killed O'Donnell. Usually this would result in her being given a lower sentenced than those who fired the shots and used the knives, but she got the same sentence as O'Donnell.

THE judge was apparently sending her a message - that luring a man to his execution is just as repulsive as using violence against him. When in Cornton Vale Prison, Ryan still insisted the whole story didn't emerge at the trial and that if it had her position would have been treated with compassion.

So why was Manny O'Donnell killed? He had fallen out with a former business partner William Friery. Friery. had gone to Ireland with a suitcase of money, asking the IRA to kill O'Donnell.

Rumours were, the Provo’s wanted to talk to O'Donnell themselves. It was rumoured the Contractor had cheated some Republican figures out of drug money, a lot of money.

The day before The Contractor was lured to his death, one of his lawyers, Jack Quar, was found hanged in his office. The conclusion was that he had committed suicide. Yet Quar was an active man, he once worked for Military Intelligence.

Lawyer Jack Quar

The day Quar died he had seemed his usual self, even buying a Christmas tree for his home and office. He had made arrangements to dine with friends later that night. His last client on the day of his death was Manny O'Donnell. Was someone on O'Donnell's trail? Worried he may pass on information to his lawyer? Was Quar lynched because of his relationship to O'Donnell? Mary Ryan might well be right that the whole story has yet to emerge.

What was her reason for luring O’Donnell to his death? Maybe one day the whole truth will emerge.

The list of allegations concerning O'Donnell's activities followed his brutal murder in November 1998. The judge called the killing "the most heinous of murders". A murder charge against a third man, Patrick Devine - Ryan's 25-year-old lover, was not proven.

There is said to have been two other people involved in Manny's murder. A media censorship was imposed on the trial because of the hope that Ryan and O'Donnell, who is no relation to the victim, did not kill the 53-year-old Irishman alone. It is believed Ryan and O'Donnell murdered Manny after he discovered they had stolen a seven figure sum from him. A large amount of money was missing from his accounts at the time of his death.

Ryan worked for Manny at one of his construction firms in Dennistoun. She also organised an escort agency connected to him in Clydebank called Pretty Woman. Francis O'Donnell worked as Manny's driver. Allegations of Manny's role as an IRA fundraiser were shattered in court by William Friery - billed as a republican nicknamed the Border Fox, who said the Donegal born man was a boaster who gave nothing to the republican cause. Friery said in court that he would have been willing to see Manny killed, claiming the businessman conned him in a venture over an Irish bar in Clydebank called The Shamrock.

He claimed Manny hired Paul Ferris's men to keep Friery out and then burned the bar. He also said he was told that Manny offered the Provo’s £50.000 to kill him. The court was also told how Manny, a convicted fraudster, fiddled tens of thousands of pounds out of the tax-man. Some of this money was supposedly given to the IRA.

Rumours have also surfaced that Manny had stolen £250,000 worth of cocaine from a major drug baron in Scotland and was a police informer.

Mary Ryan and Francis O’Donnell appealed against their convictions. Following lengthy appeal proceedings, Ryan and O'Donnell's case was heard by Lord Mackay, sitting with Lord Osborne and Lord Nimmo Smith.

The appeal judges heard that the murder victim ran "irregular" businesses with wages paid in cash, gangers employed without proper health and safety certificates and shell companies used to defeat the interests of creditors.

Ryan's lawyers argued that there was insufficient evidence to allow the jury to convict her of the charge.It was claimed that the evidence was sufficient to establish that she was present when the murder was committed, but not that she knew it was to take place or that she was acting along with the killers.

Lord Mackay rejected the submission, and said: "In our opinion, the jury heard evidence which entitled them to convict her on the charge of murder."That evidence enabled them to hold that prior to the appellant leaving the Tinto Firs Hotel around 9 pm she had entered into a common criminal purpose, whose scope was such that the deceased was liable to be shot."That common criminal purpose involved her hiring a car, driving the deceased in that car so that he met up with those who intended to kill him, being present whilst the deceased was killed, taking part in the subsequent destruction of the hire car and engaging in an attempt to cover up the circumstances in which the destruction of the car took place."This is a case where the lies which she told the police in various witness statements she provided can be said to have had some evidential value and could have been taken into account by the jury."

The appeal judges also rejected a challenge over statements from witnesses which went undisclosed at the time of the trial to defence lawyers in Ryan and O'Donnell's cases.

They said they were not persuaded that the jury would have returned a different verdict if the material had been known.

O'Donnell, whose case had been referred by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which looks into alleges miscarriages of justice, had earlier been freed from prison. He was returned to jail following the failed appeal.

Lawyers acting for Ryan tried in vain to have her sentence reduced because of the length of time passed down.

Mary Ryan and Francis O'Donnel are now free. After O'Donnell's freedom there was reports in an Irish Newspaper that he had stolen 1.8 million from Manny and had recovered the money on his release and headed over to Ireland.

If this is true it gives more credence to the rumours that he and Mary had stolen money from Manny and had decided killing him would be easier than having to run.