A three-man "hit for hire team", which included an Afghan war veteran, were planning to kill a member of the Hutch family before they were intercepted by gardaí just 250 metres from the "intended target's" home in Dublin's north inner city, the Special Criminal Court was told today.
The non-jury court also heard that audio surveillance of the team picked up references to “the cartel” and “money all over the world”.
Gary Thompson (aged 34), with an address at Plunkett Green in Finglas, Dublin 11, his brother Glen Thompson (aged 24), of Plunkett Drive, also in Finglas, and Robert Browne (aged 35), of Phibsboro Road in Phibsboro, Dublin 7, have admitted to unlawful possession of four firearms with intent to endanger life at Belmont Hall Apartments, Gardiner Street, Dublin 1 on March 10, 2018.
The four firearms included a 9mm Rak sub-machine gun, a .38 Special Calibre Rossi Make Revolver, a 9mm Beretta 92 semi-automatic pistol and a 9mm Makarov semi-automatic pistol.
The maximum sentence for such an offence is life in prison and the minimum sentence is 10 years.
At today’s sentence hearing, Detective Superintendent David Gallagher from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau summarised the facts of the case.
Det. Supt Gallagher told prosecuting counsel Ronan Kennedy BL that the investigation was an intelligence-led operation which occurred between early February and March 10, 2018. It arose from confidential information received concerning individuals within an organised crime gang involved in a serious feud, targeting rivals in another group “for assassination”, he said.
The detective said that surveillance was carried out on a number of people suspected to be involved and this included a number of people who are not before the court.
Other individuals were acquired to conduct the attack but this changed in early March when the three accused men became involved and took over the role as “effectively the hit for hire team”, said the witness.
Most of the planning, logistics and financing were already in place by this time, he added.
Glen Thompson first became involved on March 4 when he attended a meeting at a Santry coffee shop. Robert Browne “became visible” for the first time on March 6 when he was stopped driving his vehicle on the North Circular Road, an area of interest as it was near where the “intended target” lived, the court heard.
As a result of CCTV and audio recordings, it became apparent to investigators that there was a plan to murder Patrick "Patsy” Hutch at his address on Champion’s Avenue in Dublin 1.
Det. Supt Gallagher said there were three parts to the plan and the first part was to move a van into an underground carpark at Belmont Hall Apartments, which was near Mr Hutch’s address. This van was to be used as a station post providing cover for the hit team while they were waiting for a signal that the target was on the move, the court heard.
The second aspect of the plan was to have “a getaway vehicle” parked at Stoney Road in East Wall, Dublin 3, in order to provide “an escape route”.
The third part of the plan was to be in position in the van in the early morning of the attack in order to await a phone call from a “looker” who would have sight of the target as he was observed leaving his address. The "hit team" would leave the van and get into a waiting vehicle and intercept and kill the target before heading for the getaway vehicle, said Det. Supt Gallagher.
The white van was registered to a non-existent address and was subject to audio surveillance, he explained.
Visual observation and CCTV footage identified a Volkswagen Passat owned by Browne arriving at Collinswood in Dublin 9 at 9.51am on March 7 with the Thompson brothers. The three men were seen getting into a van which was parked at Plunkett Green and it was driven to Finglas.
During this journey, a conversation was recorded between Gary Thompson and Browne in which “reservations were expressed” about another man not before the court. This man “eventually dropped out of the picture", the court heard.
Browne was heard on the recording saying: “I don’t like the way he wants to do Patsy.”
There was a significant conversation with references about “the cartel” and “money all over the world”. Following this, Browne said: “I’ll get you 15 grand out of this.”
On March 8, people not before the court were observed purchasing mobile phones and SIM cards, said the detective.
On March 9, a vehicle was moved from Finglas to Stoney Road and was parked up there until it was recovered by gardaí on March 10.
A transcript of another audio conversation showed "a level of forensic awareness" and Glen Thompson was heard saying “you want to watch what you are touching there” as well as a conversation about an attempt to disguise his appearance by wearing gloves and glasses, said Det. Supt Gallagher.
Glen Thompson was also heard saying in the recording: “I’ll give you the Makarov" and Browne replied: “I’ll just use the little small one… you take the .38, I just want something just in case”.
Det. Supt Gallagher said Browne was conscious of not getting caught and said: “What I want is to get into the van and no one see us. It’s real quiet in there, especially with them gardaí.” This was a reference to uniformed gardaí being stationed close to Mr Hutch’s residence on Champions Avenue, clarified the witness.
Referring to “young fellas” congregating in the area, Browne was also heard saying that there could be someone being paid “to watch his [Patsy Hutch] back”.
The garda operation moved from surveillance into an intervention operation on March 10 as it had reached a critical point, the court heard.
The three men were seen travelling in an Audi through Finglas and the city centre at 7.14am before entering a gated underground carpark at Belmont Hall Apartments, which was located around 250 metres from Mr Hutch’s house.
The Audi reversed into a parking bay and parked up near a Ford Connect van which had been purchased on Done Deal in February and falsely registered.
Browne was driving the Audi, wearing dark clothing and a dark wig. Gary Thompson was the front seat passenger and his brother Glen was in the rear of the vehicle, he said.
The three men were seen getting out of the Audi and getting into the Ford Connect van at 7.16am.
At this point, an “armed intervention” took place by members of the Emergency Response Unit and the three men were removed from the rear of the van and arrested.
Gardaí recovered a fob to open the gates of Belmont Hall Apartments from Gary Thompson’s waistband when he was conveyed to Store Street Garda station later that morning, said the witness.
During his interviews with gardaí, Browne indicated that he had a drug debt and this was the reason he had become involved in the event.
Three pairs of gloves, a wig, three mobile phones, a water bottle, and several car keys were amongst the items found in the Ford Connect van.
Det. Insp Gallagher said a Rak sub-machine gun loaded with 18 rounds of ammunition and fitted with a shoulder strap was found on the passenger seat of the Audi car.
A .38 Special Calibre Rossi Make Revolver with five rounds of ammunition and a 9mm Beretta 92 semi-automatic pistol were also found in the rear passenger seat of the Audi. Balaclavas were on the floor of the car and two red petrol cans were found in the boot.
The DNA profile generated from a water bottle found in the Audi matched Browne and the DNA profile attained from a Nokia mobile phone matched Gary Thompson. Furthermore, a DNA profile generated from a blue towel recovered from the Ford Connect matched Glen Thompson, the court heard.
An analysis of the phones showed that they had been used by the three men, who had been in contact with each other as well as the person designated as the “looker”.
Det. Supt Gallagher agreed with Sean Gillane SC, for Browne, that logistics had been put in place independently and this event was not organised by the defendants before the court.
Giolliosa O’Lideadha SC, for Glen Thompson, submitted to the court that his guilty plea was of particular value to the court. Another factor in mitigation, the defence counsel said was that his client's drug problems had led to him falling into debt and, as a result, he became involved in criminal activity.
Sean Gillane SC, for Browne, asked the court to take into consideration that his client had joined the British Army where he was well-regarded and did a number of tours in Afghanistan. Following his decision to leave the army, he began abusing alcohol and drugs which were exacerbated by his sister's death in 2017.
Mr Gillane said:
“His addiction to drugs caused a danger to his own life and he is lucky to be alive.”
Mr Gillane added that Browne was brought into this event at a relatively late stage and took instructions rather than gave them.
Michael Bowman SC, representing Gary Thompson, said his client was a qualified scaffolder, had four children and had been blighted by trauma during his life from which he bore physical and psychological scars.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge Ann Ryan, remanded the three men in custody until July 29, when they will be sentenced.