A man who was allegedly the subject of a contract killing has told a jury in the Central Criminal Court he met a man calling himself Tony who offered him the chance to buy himself, his brother and his father out of the contract for €100,000.
Clare woman Sharon Collins (aged 45), of Ballybeg House, Kildysart Road, Ennis and Essam Eid (aged 53), an Egyptian man with a Las Vegas address have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill P.J, Robert and Niall Howard between August 1, 2006 and September 26, 2006. Ms Collins also denied hiring Mr Eid to shoot the three men.
Mr Eid denies demanding €100,000 from Mr Robert Howard to cancel the contracts. He also denies breaking into the Howard family business at Westgate Business Park and stealing two computers, some computer cables, a digital clock and a poster of old Irish money and then handling the stolen items.
Mr Robert Howard told prosecution counsel Mr Tom O’Connell SC he received a call on his mobile from a man who called himself Tony at about 10.30pm on September 26, 2006.
“It was a male voice and he said: 'I heard you lost a few computers'.”
Mr Howard said that he was a director of the family property investment business Downes & Howard, where he and his brother worked with his father. Ms Collins, who was Mr P.J Power’s partner at the time also worked in the business.
Seven people had keys to the premises, including the three Howards, Ms Collins, a cleaner, a handyman and the firm’s accountant. All these people would have had the alarm codes as well.
On September 26, he had come into work as normal. He noticed that the Chubb lock on the front door was not locked. Going upstairs he noticed that the alarm was not on either. A Toshiba laptop computer belonging to him was missing along with an Advent desktop computer from the reception area, some computer cables, a digital clock and a picture of some old Irish money.
Mr Howard said that the robbery had been reported to the gardaí. That evening he received the phone call.
“He said: 'I will be at your house in five minutes'.”
Mr Howard said he did not contact the gardaí at this stage because he didn’t believe anyone would turn up.
“Next thing I knew there was a knock at the door about five minutes later.”
From the lights of cars passing on the road outside and light from the hallway of the house, he could see someone standing at the door so he went to open it.
The man standing outside said his name was Tony and Mr Howard said he could see something on the bonnet of his car. The man went and collected it and Mr Howard said he could see it was the dark blue Toshiba laptop that had been taken in the robbery.
Mr Howard told Mr O’Connell that he went inside and gave the laptop to his brother who phoned the gardaí. Mr Howard went back outside.
The man told him there was a contract out on himself, his brother Niall, and his father P.J. He told him it was worth €130,000 but said he did not want to carry out the hit.
“He said he didn’t want to do it and he said he wanted me to buy the contract out for €100,000”.
Mr Howard said the man was holding documents showing how to get to the house he shared with his brother, how to get to his father’s house and how to get to the holiday home he and his brother had in Kilkee.
He also showed him some photographs of P.J Howard. One showing Mr Howard on the deck of a boat, the other of Mr Howard and Ms Collins at a Christmas party.
Robert Howard said he took the photographs, which had been printed off from a computer, and kept them, later giving them to gardaí.
He said the man was about 5ft 11' and looked like he was in his mid-40s.
“He had a baseball cap on him and a tracksuit.”
The man was clean shaven and “sallow skinned”. Mr Howard said the man spoke with an Algerian accent “even though he told me he was Italian”. He was wearing spectacles.
At some point during the 20 minutes they were talking on the doorstep one of Mr Howard’s housemates walked past them into the house. He said he went back inside and phoned the gardaí to see if they were on their way and when he came back out the man was leaving.
“I came outside the house again and Tony was over the wall and he was on his way to a car.”
Mr Howard said he tried to follow him as he drove off without lights but lost him. He was not able to identify the colour of the car or the licence plate.
Later that night he said he received another phone call from Tony who asked him if he had started getting the money together. Robert said he had.
He said neither he nor his brother touched the laptop after it was brought into the house and it stayed sitting on the kitchen table until the guards took possession of it the following day.
The trial continues on Monday afternoon before Mr Justice Roderick Murphy and the jury of eight men and four women. It is expected to last for four weeks.