The mistake by the ‘couple’ could be the thread which will help gardaí unravel the gang behind the Regency Hotel assault last Friday.
When the two men, one dressed as a woman, exited the Drumcondra hotel, each carrying a handgun, little did they expect that a press photographer would be taking their images.
They had entered the Regency Hotel through a back door, not covered by CCTV, and left the same way.
The image, with the faces blurred, appeared on the front page of the Sunday World yesterday.
The senior investigating team secured a court warrant on Friday to access the image. The unblurred photograph clearly shows their faces, particularly the stocky man with the flat cap.
While gardaí are still investigating possible theories as to why they did not better protect their faces, they suspect it was an unforeseen “error” in an otherwise professional hit.
That hit left Dublin criminal David Byrne, 33, from Crumlin, south Dublin dead, and two associates injured. One since discharged himself and the other has a serious leg wound.
“It is hard to reconcile the man with the flat cap with the other elements of the operation, which were sophisticated,” said one garda source. “Was it an error? Was it that he didn’t expect to be caught on camera?”
Another garda said: “They went in and out by a back door, not the main entrance, where there’s cameras. Given how professional the rest of it was, he mustn’t have thought there was a risk he could be identified by eyewitnesses, other than saying ‘a man with a cap’.”
Garda sources said they had not yet identified either person in the photographs. But one added that, if they had, they were hardly going to say.
The other possibility is that the pair are not from Ireland and do not fear being identified, and may have already left the country.
But experienced officers are not convinced of that. One eyewitness said the man in the flat cap looked Irish.
Some eye-witnesses and garda sources have also said that one of the men in Swat-type uniforms, each armed with AK-47s, spoke with a Dublin accent.
All the garda sources spoken to described the two police-style gunmen, wearing face masks and metal helmets, who entered the hotel as “professional”, given how they moved and how they targeted certain people.
“The job of the spotters [the couple] was to go into the room, identify their targets, and get them running out the main door into the guys with the Kalashnikovs.”
But when the couple were in the room they failed to spot their main target, Daniel Kinahan, son of Christy, the head of the Kinahan cartel.
The man with the cap shouted “he’s not here”, prompting the disguised woman to fire two shots into the ceiling.
A source said Daniel Kinahan jumped out a window of the room, aided by his bodyguard, who was possibly armed, and got away.
Other gang members did go out the main door, including David Byrne.
Gardaí suspect that one of the Swat gunmen shot him in the leg as he approached, then fired another as he lay on the ground, against the reception desk.
At this stage, BBC sports reporter Kevin McAnena was taking cover on the far side of the desk.
Gardaí said that the gunman leaned over the desk, spoke to Mr McAnena, and pointed his weapon at him.
The gunman then went back and fired another shot into Byrne, before leaning over again to Mr McAnena.
“The gunman seemed to be checking who he was, then left him alone,” said a garda.
“These two guys were professionals,” said a garda. “They knew what they were doing and acted cool throughout.”
Another garda said: “They had military weapons, automatic weapons. They could have killed innocent bystanders if they wanted to. But they weren’t lunatics. They targeted certain people.”
Sources admitted that the number of Dublin criminals capable of operating like these two individuals would be “small”, but declined to expand any further.
The gang left calmly and got into a silver van. The third Swat gunman had been seen firing out of the van.
The gang left the grounds through electronic gates to a private apartment complex with the use of a fob and made good their escape.
“This was professionally organised,” said another source. “They knew the whole place, they had a fob, the van was burnt out, they knew their escape routes, they knew the hotel, the two Swat guys moved in formation.”
The sources stressed it was early days in a long investigation and that they had multiple lines of inquiry, including on the fob, the van, a mountain of CCTV, witness statements and technical examinations.
And they have one loose thread they couldn’t have hoped for: That photograph.