A senior garda who was threatened with murder by notorious gangland leader Brian Rattigan was followed last week after going to see his daughter's school play.

The detective was approached by Rattigan on 14 December, during the criminal's court case for the murder of Declan Gavin, and told that he was a "dead man".

Gardaí launched a major security operation because they knew Rattigan had the capacity to organise murders from his jail cell.

The force has increased patrols around the officer's home and is providing him with escorts. In November 2005, a bullet was found on the garda's wife's car outside the family home after Rattigan placed a €15,000 contract to have the officer murdered.

On 19 December, the garda was returning from watching his young daughter's school nativity play when he noticed a suspicious Audi with two passengers in it.

He was being accompanied by an unmarked garda car, and the driver of the garda vehicle also noticed the Audi and pulled it over. It was determined that the two men had links to a Co Wicklow-based criminal who is connected to the Rattigan gang. Last month, a garda informer came forward with information that the Co Wicklow criminal had agreed to organise surveillance on the garda with a view to carrying out a shooting on him.

There was insufficient evidence to arrest the pair and they denied that they were following the detective's car. Nevertheless, gardaí are extremely concerned that Rattigan seems intent on getting revenge on the garda, who he blames for his conviction for the Gavin murder.

Twenty-eight-year-old Rattigan, from Cooley Road in Drimnagh, was last month convicted of the murder of Gavin, who was stabbed to death in Crumlin in 2001.

Rattigan is the leader of one of the gangs involved in a feud that has left 16 people dead in eight years.