Court finds former Sinn Féin Councillor threatened waterboarding victim with IRA claims

Court finds former Sinn Féin Councillor threatened waterboarding victim with IRA claims
Jonathan Dowdall.

The Special Criminal Court has accepted allegations that a former Sinn Féin Councillor claimed he was in the IRA and threatened the family of a man he had falsely imprisoned and waterboarded.

Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, presiding at the non-jury court, returned judgement this afternoon in a "Newton hearing" to decide on a dispute between the prosecution and the defence on the facts of the case of Jonathan Dowdall (aged 38) and his father Patrick Dowdall (aged 59).

Last month, footage recorded on a mobile phone was shown to the court of Jonathan Dowdall wearing a balaclava and holding a tea towel to the man’s face before pouring water over his head.

The court heard that Jonathan Dowdall believed the victim, Alexander Hurley, was pretending to be a barrister and that he was seeking Dowdall's bank details in order to defraud him.

The two men had met after Dowdall had advertised a motorbike for sale on donedeal.ie.

Jonathan Dowdall, with an address at Navan Road, Dublin 7 and his father Patrick Dowdall, of the same address, had both admitted to falsely imprisoning Alexander Hurley by detaining him without his consent at Navan Road, Dublin 7 on January 15, 2015.

Gardaí gathering evidence at Jonathan Dowdall's house.
Gardaí gathering evidence at Jonathan Dowdall's house.

Both men had also pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Mr Hurley at the same place on the same date.

Prosecution counsel, Mr Vincent Heneghan SC, today called Alexander Hurley to give evidence to the hearing.

Mr Hurley said he made contact with Jonathan Dowdall concerning the purchase of the motorbike on donedeal.ie on January 12 and they arranged to meet.

The witness later went to Jonathan Dowdall's house on the Navan Road to examine the motorbike. The court heard that Mr Hurley had a conversation with Patrick Dowdall while he was there. The only literature that was ever exchanged between them on this date was Jonathan Dowdall's business card, he said.

"Jonathan Dowdall's wife was there, his eldest daughter and I think some other young children were there but I didn’t have conversations with them," he said. Jonathan Dowdall then gave Mr Hurley a lift into town.

The witness agreed that Jonathan Dowdall's wife emailed her husband's bank details to him after this. Mr Hurley testified that he had only agreed to purchase the motorbike if he was able to obtain finance. "I had received a rejection from one institution and was awaiting a decision from another," he said.

Mr Hurley said that Jonathan Dowdall then phoned him on January 14 to invite him to dinner. "I was concerned as I didn’t know the individual. I arranged to meet him at 7pm outside the Rotunda Hospital on January 15," he said.

The court heard that Jonathan Dowdall drove Mr Hurley to his home on the Navan Road on January 15. "As we proceeded to the front door, I was asked was I looking forward to dinner and I said yes. When the front door was opened, Patrick Dowdall was inside the door and I was immediately ushered into the garage," he said.

Mr Hurley said that when the ordeal ended at 10pm he was bundled into a car with Jonathan Dowdall, his father and a third individual. "Jonathan Dowdall had my phone and he was deleting every record in my phone. When I got out of the car the time was 10.35pm," he said.

The witness testified that there were three men in the garage during the ordeal that night. "There was one female at the door-frame and that would have been the daughter (Jonathan Dowdall's daughter) recording the incident," he said

Mr Hurley agreed with Mr Heneghan that Jonathan Dowdall said he was a member of the IRA. "Jonathan Dowdall asked me did I know who he was, I said I didn't, he said he was part of Sinn Féin. Patrick Dowdall backed up the statement and said he (Jonathan Dowdall) was a highly recognised figure and I went on to tell him what he wanted to hear," said Mr Hurley.

The witness said there was no mention of Jonathan Dowdall being a member of the UDA.

Mr Hurley said he was driven by Jonathan Dowdall in the car to a remote location in Dublin after the ordeal. "I was told to get the fuck out of Dublin and also told if I go to the fucking guards I would be picked up in a matter of hours and they would kill my family if I made a report to Gardaí," he said. Mr Hurley denied taking an insurance policy from Jonathan Dowdall.

Under cross examination by Mr Michael O’Higgins SC, defending Jonathan Dowdall, Mr Hurley said he presented himself as a barrister as he was nervous and he did not want to “expose” his “true identity". "I know it was silly to do that. I didn’t know the individual and I got nervous. It was on the spur-of the moment," he said.

Mr Hurley agreed with Mr O'Higgins that he had posed as a barrister previously as he was "going through a tough time."

"It was wrong of me to do it," he said.

The witness agreed with counsel that he told Jonathan Dowdall that he was a barrister to gain his trust but that was "as far as it went." He disagreed that it was done to get the motorbike for free.

Mr Hurley disagreed with Mr O'Higgins that after he tried on the motorbike gear in Jonathan Dowdall's house, he left with Jonathan Dowdall's insurance policy and ID card.

The barrister put it to Mr Hurley that the idea of Jonathan Dowdall inviting him for dinner was "nonsense". The witness denied this and said: "It was nothing to do with a receipt, it was an invite to dinner as I was told his father enjoyed my company immensely on the previous occasion."

Mr Hurley said he was "shocked and traumatised" after the ordeal and sat in the shower for a few hours "to gather his thoughts" and "wash off the hairs" due to his head having been shaved by Jonathan Dowdall.

The witness said he did not know where Jonathan Dowdall dropped him off but it was a "dark street with high walls".

He said Jonathan Dowdall told him he was a member of the IRA and if he presented himself to Gardaí he would be "picked up in a number of hours as there were people watching everywhere."

Mr O'Higgins put it to the witness that he went to Jonathan Dowdall's house to engage in acts of deception. “I didn’t set out with that mindset, I do 100 per cent accept I took wrong turns in my earlier life, we all make mistakes but I did not do that," he said.

Under cross examination by Mr Dean Kelly BL, defending Patrick Dowdall, Mr Hurley said he was dropped off in the car by Jonathan Dowdall after 10pm on January 15. Mr Hurley said that while Patrick Dowdall made no direct reference to his son being a member of an organisation, he did "back him up." Mr Hurley agreed with Mr Kelly that there was no mention of Jonathan Dowdall being a member of the UDA.

Defence counsel, Mr O'Higgins, then called Jonathan Dowdall to give evidence to the hearing. Jonathan Dowdall agreed with counsel that he had pleaded guilty to one count of false imprisonment and one count of threatening to kill Mr Hurley. Jonathan Dowdall added: "It shouldn’t have happened. I'm sorry it did happen. I'm genuinely sorry it happened.”

The accused said he was selling his motorbike and Mr Hurley came to his house to inspect it. "Mr Hurley looked at the bike and was chatting to family members. He asked me would I sell him it. He said he was headhunted to work as a barrister. I also offered to sell him motorbike clothes," he said.

Jonathan Dowdall said Mr Hurley took a long time to try on the clothes as he was searching the pockets of the jacket. "I got a little bit suspicious. My insurance policy and driving licence were in the pockets of the jacket," he said. Jonathan Dowdall said he noticed that his insurance policy went missing the following day.

The accused denied that he invited Mr Hurley to his house for dinner and said Mr Hurley came to his house on January 15 as he wanted to give him a receipt for the money order for payment of the bike.

Jonathan Dowdall said the ordeal lasted for "thirty or forty minutes max" and Mr Hurley was left on his own in the garage once. He denied telling Mr Hurley that he was in the UDA saying: "No, it was never said." He denied issuing a threat against Mr Hurley's family and said he was afraid his identity would be taken by Mr Hurley.

The accused agreed with Mr Heneghan that he worked in the electrical business and he had no previous convictions. Jonathan Dowdall said he was not a member of Sinn Féin in January 2015. He said only his father and himself were present in the house on January 15 and disagreed that a third man was present in the house on the evening. He said he could not recall who made the "shocking" recording that night.

Jonathan Dowdall said he never referenced the IRA during Mr Hurley's false imprisonment and never threatened Mr Hurley's family. The accused said he deleted things from Mr Hurley's phone as Mr Hurley had access to his details.

Defence counsel, Mr Dean Kelly BL, then called Patrick Dowdall to give evidence to the hearing. Patrick Dowdall said Mr Hurley was present in his son's house for "about 40 minutes to an hour". Patrick Dowdall denied that he caused Mr Hurley to believe that his son was a member of the IRA and a member of a political party. He said threats were "never" made to Mr Hurley's family.

Patrick Dowdall agreed with Mr Heneghan that what happened to Mr Hurley was a "spur of the moment decision" and "it just got out of hand".

Returning judgement, Ms Justice Kennedy said that after looking at the phone records she was not satisfied that Jonathan Dowdall made the first phone call to Mr Hurley and would give the accused men the benefit of the doubt. She said she was satisfied that Jonathan Dowdall had invited Mr Hurley for dinner in his house.

Ms Justice Kennedy also said she accepted that Patrick Dowdall was at the door and had ushered Mr Hurley into the garage.

The judge said she was satisfied that Mr Hurley was in the garage for approximately two hours and she did not accept the Dowdalls' evidence that he was there for between 30 minutes and one hour. Mr Hurley had maintained he was in the Dowdall's house for three hours.

Ms Justice Kennedy said it was clear that Mr Hurley's recollection regarding the UDA claim was "flawed" but she accepted IRA claims were made by Jonathan Dowdall.

The judge said she accepted that Mr Hurley's family were threatened.

Regarding Mr Hurley taking a copy of Jonathan Dowdall's insurance policy without his permission, the judge said this was not relevant on an assessment of the facts.

Ms Justice Kennedy said the three-judge, non-jury court will proceed with sentencing at 12.45pm tomorrow.

Jonathan Dowdall was yesterday granted a hearing to settle disputed evidence in the case. The Special Criminal Court directed that a "Newton hearing" take place to resolve the conflict on the facts in the case. Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said yesterday that "Newton hearings" were "extraordinarily rare" but it would be permitted in this case in the interests of justice.

Earlier this month, the court adjourned the sentencing of Jonathan Dowdall and his father Patrick Dowdall after hearing submissions from Jonathan Dowdall’s counsel Mr Michael O’Higgins SC.

On May 19, Mr O'Higgins submitted that a number of issues had arisen that the court should take into account before passing sentence. Mr O’Higgins told the Special Criminal Court that suggestions that his client was a leading member of the IRA and a friend of Mary Lou Mc Donald and Gerry Adams were not accepted.

Counsel said that his client did not invite Mr Hurley to dinner, but that Mr Hurley was coming to the house with a receipt. Mr O’Higgins said that Mr Hurley had previous convictions for dishonesty and his word could not be accepted.

Yesterday, Ms Justice Kennedy, presiding, said the court considered five issues to be relevant to the "Newton hearing".

The first was the contention that Jonathan Dowdall did not invite Alexander Hurley to dinner, but that Mr Hurley was coming to the house with a receipt. The second relevant fact was whether the ordeal lasted for a period of three hours. The judge said the third relevant fact was that Jonathan Dowdall contended he never stated he was head of the IRA or UDA. She said it was relevant that an alleged threat was made to Mr Hurley's family and that Mr Hurley took a copy of Jonathan Dowdall's insurance policy.

Ms Justice Kennedy said the reference made to Jonathan Dowdall being a friend of Mary Lou Mc Donald and Gerry Adams was irrelevant as she could not see how this assertion would constitute a threat. The judge also said that matters reported by the media and the LinkedIn profile were not relevant to sentencing.


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