A former Sinn Féin councillor who physically and mentally tortured a man he believed was trying to defraud him has been jailed for 12 years by the Special Criminal Court.
The court found that Jonathan Dowdall's victim, Anthony Hurley, was subjected to a “gratuitous, humiliating and degrading” ordeal during which he was tied to a chair and waterboarded. Dowdall claimed he as a member of the IRA and Mr Hurley was told he would be "chopped up" and "fed to the dogs".
Patrick Dowdall, the father of the former councillor, was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the offence. Jonathan Dowdall was also given a concurrent four years and his father a concurrent three years in prison for threatening to kill the victim.
Presiding judge Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said today that these were “most serious offences”. “The injured party was subjected to a horrendous and terrifying ordeal, he endured what can only be described as physical and mental torture at the hands of the Dowdalls,” she said.
Last month, footage recorded on a mobile phone was shown to the court of Jonathan Dowdall (aged 40) wearing a balaclava and holding a tea towel to the man’s face before pouring water over his head.
The court heard that Gardaí searching Jonathan Dowdall's house in relation to a separate matter found the footage on a USB flash drive. An assertion by Jonathan Dowdall that he would have uploaded the footage to YouTube was found to be “deeply disturbing" by the non-jury court.
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 (aged 60), 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.
Both men had also pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Mr Hurley at the same place on the same date.
Before handing down sentence today Ms Justice Kennedy, presiding, sitting with Judge Sinead Ni Chulachain and Judge James Faughnan, read the facts of the case to the court.
The judge said the case was originally listed for trial but the two men pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and making threats to kill on March 27 this year.
She said a sentence hearing took place in May but a “Newton hearing” was necessary to resolve the conflict of the facts in the case.
The judge said the Gardaí were searching Jonathan Dowdall’s house on the Navan Road on March 9, 2016, in relation to a separate matter, when they found a USB flash drive. The USB stick was analysed and footage was found on it of a man being forcibly detained.
On May 28, 2016, Alexander Hurley was located and he made a statement to Gardaí.
The judge said Mr Hurley made contact with Jonathan Dowdall on January 10, 2015 regarding the sale of a motorbike. The first meeting took place between the two men on January 12, 2015 when Mr Hurley went to Mr Dowdall’s home. Jonathan Dowdall dropped Mr Hurley to O’Connell Street that evening and there was subsequent contact between the two men regarding the purchase of the motorbike.
Jonathan Dowdall then invited Mr Hurley to his home for dinner and insisted he attend. Mr Hurley was told Patrick Dowdall had enjoyed his company on the previous occasion and so Mr Hurley accepted the invite to dinner. On January 15, Jonathan Dowdall collected Mr Hurley and they arrived at his house on the Navan Road at 7.20pm.
The judge said after Jonathan Dowdall opened the door, Mr Hurley was met by Patrick Dowdall who pushed him into the garage and backed him into a swivel chair. Mr Hurley’s wrists, chest and legs were tied to the chair with cable ties. Mr Hurley told Gardaí he was “petrified” and Jonathan Dowdall called him “a lying bastard from the sewer”.
The Dowdalls and another man described what they were going to do to him such as feed parts of him to the dogs, chop him up and store him in the boot of a BMW unless he told the truth. He was told there was no point in screaming as the garage was sound-proof and no one would hear him.
The judge said Mr Hurley was accused of being a thief and how he had tried to steal a car from another person.
The court previously heard how a girl came into the garage with a bucket and a tea towel. The judge said that it was “blatantly untrue” that there were only two men in the house at the time as some of the evidence was recorded by a female. The Dowdalls had been unable to recall in their evidence who had recorded the ordeal on the evening, she said.
Ms Justice Kennedy said “facilitating” a young woman to record events was “very concerning” and described it as an “aggravating factor” in the case.
Jonathan Dowdall proceeded to place a tea towel and pour water over Mr Hurley’s head. Mr Hurley told Gardaí that he thought he was drowning as he could not breathe.
Mr Hurley explained to Gardaí how the cable ties were tightened on him. He was told he would be fed to the dogs and his head would be “burned at the stake”. He was told he was stupid to mess with the IRA and he would be dead within 24 hours if he went to the Gardaí. He was also told that if he told a soul about this that his parents would be dead within 48 hours of his disappearance.
The court heard that at one stage Patrick Dowdall pulled out a silver pliers and threatened to pull Mr Hurley's fingers off. Jonathan Dowdall told him he was concerned that he was fraudulently trying to use his bank details.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the court viewed three pieces of video footage arising from January 15 which depicted a “truly terrifying ordeal which no words could adequately convey”.
She said the video footage depicted “with the utmost clarity the abject terror” experienced by Mr Hurley as a result of the Dowdall’s acts and words.
The judge said it was “fortuitous” that the recording was recovered by the Gardaí so the two men could be brought to justice.
Ms Justice Kennedy said it was “chilling” that the recording was made in the first place and the purpose of it was “unknown”. She said the fact Jonathan Dowdall had told the court he would have uploaded the footage to YouTube was “deeply disturbing” and showed that his moral compass was “fundamentally skewed”.
She said the injured party can be seen whimpering but the “callous and brutal attack continued”.
The judge said the men were arrested on May 17, 2016 and since then they have expressed apologies and regret.
She said Jonathan Dowdall was a married man with four daughters and was an electrician by trade. He was a devoted family and community man who had a difficult upbringing, she said.
The court heard Patrick Dowdall is a separated man who has four children. “He also had a difficult upbringing and poor health,” she said.
The judge said the court wished “to deprecate in the strongest possible terms” the seeking of a “Newton hearing”. She said to have put Mr Hurley through the ordeal of having to give evidence “significantly lessened the credit that would have otherwise been given for an already late plea of guilty”.
She said arrangements were put in place to bring Mr Hurley to the house and this “indicated premeditation”. She said these were “most serious offences” and Mr Hurley was subjected to a “horrendous and terrifying ordeal”.
Ms Justice Kennedy went on to say that the aggravating factors were the significant harm caused to Mr Hurley, the “gratuitous, humiliating and degrading” nature of the ordeal, the prolonged nature of the activities, the terror experienced by Mr Hurley, the restraint by the cable ties, the use of a tea towel and buckets of water, the production of the pliers in the course of issuing threats, the impact on the victim, the recording of the event, the duration of the ordeal and the continued “savage attack” despite Mr Hurley's pleas to desist.
Mitigating factors for Jonathan Dowdall included his guilty plea, no previous convictions, his work record, his physical and mental health, his expressions of remorse and the testimonials handed into court.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said, the court considered 14 years an appropriate sentence for Jonathan Dowdall. Taking into account mitigating factors, the court reduced the sentence to 12 years.
“Despite his protestations of remorse, the Newton hearing had the effect of tainting the genuine nature of that remorse,” she said.
Ms Justice Kennedy said that Patrick Dowdall had "less involvement" in the ordeal and the court considered 11 years an appropriate sentence. Taking into account mitigating factors such as his health issues and his history of depression, the court reduced the sentence to eight years.
Ms Justice Kennedy said all sentences were to run concurrently and were backdated to May 17, 2016.