Jailing claustrophobic Kinahan Cartel member like 'putting a man with arachnophobia in a cell with spiders'

Jailing claustrophobic Kinahan Cartel member like 'putting a man with arachnophobia in a cell with spiders'
File photo.

Jailing a claustrophobic senior Kinahan Cartel member, who directed a sub-cell in a plot to murder Patrick "Patsy" Hutch, is like putting "a man with arachnophobia in a cell with spiders", a doctor has told the Special Criminal Court.

A senior investigating officer also told the non-jury court today that the cartel's main leadership operates in the Middle East and coordinates the organisation of its various "sub-cells".

During the sentence hearing for Patrick Curtis and Mohammed Smew, Curtis's barrister told the three-judge court that his client had compromised the integrity of his encrypted phone by using his personal phone to take screen grabs of it in order to keep a record. "This might be a clue as to his overall mental ability," he submitted.

Patrick Curtis (38) of Bellman's Walk, Seville Place, Dublin 1 has pleaded guilty to directing the activities of a criminal organisation within the State between February 1 and March 10, 2018.

Mohammed Smew (27) of Milner's Square, Shanowen Road, Santry, Dublin 9 has pleaded guilty to participating in the activities of a criminal organisation, to wit the murder of Mr Hutch, by providing, moving and repairing vehicles, and of the planning or assisting to plan an attempted shooting between February 1, 2018, and March 3, 2018.

Patrick Curtis and Smew are the last two men to be sentenced for their involvement in the plan to kill Mr Hutch - the older brother of the leader of the rival Hutch organised crime group.

Last month, presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt imposed sentences totalling 19 years on three men who took part in the Kinahan Cartel plot to kill Mr Hutch in Dublin's north inner city. Michael Burns (43) was jailed for nine years whilst Stephen Curtis (32), the younger brother of Patrick Curtis, and Ciaran O'Driscoll (25) were both sentenced to five years each in prison for their role in the plot to murder Mr Hutch.

Last May, Kinahan Cartel foot soldier Mark Capper (31), who "poured cold water on" and withdrew from a plan to murder Mr Hutch three days before the proposed killing was also jailed by the Special Criminal Court for seven-and-a-half years. Capper had admitted helping the organised crime group in a plan to kill Mr Hutch by providing and repairing vehicles for the criminal organisation and carrying out reconnaissance.

In July 2019, a three-man "hit for hire team" received sentences totalling 36.5 years at the Special Criminal Court for planning to kill Mr Hutch before they were intercepted by gardaí just 250 metres from their target's home in Dublin's north inner city. Gary Thompson (35) and his brother Glen Thompson (25) were each jailed for 12 years and six months. A third man, Afghan war veteran Robert Browne (36) was sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison.

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 Sean Gillane SC that the investigation occurred between February and March 2018 and the surveillance operation initially focused on a silver Mercedes car, which was associated with another accused Michael Burns. As the investigation developed, focus was placed on an Audi vehicle which was associated with Patrick Curtis and became the subject of audio surveillance, he said.

The investigation involved a combination of features including manual surveillance, audio surveillance, the harvesting of CCTV footage and phone data material. "Ten individuals were identified as being involved and had provided a variety of roles," said Det Supt Gallagher, adding that seven men have already been convicted by the Special Criminal Court and another person was not charged.

The target of the Kinahan organised crime group was Patrick "Patsy" Hutch and the plan was to murder him as he left his house on Champions Avenue, said Mr Gillane. The investigation was concentrated on two particular addresses associated with Mr Hutch, the first being his house on Champions Avenue and the second was his daughter's address at an address in Dublin 1. Mr Hutch travelled on a motorcycle which he generally parked in the front garden of his house under tarpaulin.

Det Supt Gallagher said that he is fully satisfied that the criminal organisation identified in this investigation is the Kinahan organised crime group, which is involved in murderous feuds, firearms, drugs and money laundering. The gang operated inside and outside the jurisdiction and it was hierarchical in nature and formed on a sub-cell structure. The main leadership operates in the Middle East and coordinates the organisation and the sub-cells, he said. Each sub-cell is assigned various activities and the purpose of this sub-cell, which was formed in the north inner city, was to carry out the murder of Mr Hutch and operated for monetary gain, he pointed out.

There were three essential stages in the plan to murder Mr Hutch. The first was to set up a "staging post" at Belmont apartments which was midway between two locations associated with the target Patrick Hutch. The second was a "ruse" to commit criminal damage to Mr Hutch's house at Champions Avenue or to his daughter's car at an address in Dublin 1 in order "to lure" Mr Hutch from his home while a "looker" would give the "hit team" the signal when he was on his way. The third element was to have a "getaway location" at Stoney Road in East Wall in Dublin 3 where the gunmen would go through a pedestrian tunnel and a car would be waiting on the other side to take them away.

Det Supt Gallagher explained that Burns was captured on an audio recording in the Mercedes asking an unidentified male about sourcing a silencer. Audio surveillance revealed that telephone calls from Burns and Smew were associated with Patrick Curtis' phone, he said.

Burns was observed with a female at the address in Dublin 1 on a number of occasions and he had entered into "some class of a relationship" with her in order to secure access to the property "in circumstances that he would not stand out," said Det Supt Gallagher.

Patrick Curtis was also observed on several occasions meeting with Burns, Capper and Smew at Costa Coffee in the Omni Park Shopping Centre in Santry. Mr Gillane said that Capper and Smew were the individuals chosen to carry out the ultimate killing of Mr Hutch.

Audio surveillance also captured a discussion between Patrick Curtis and a female acquaintance in which he told her: 

They have so much money that they could buy half of them Hutch's to kill their own half, that's the way it's gone. People are getting money for a hit. People are getting money they used to get for a hit. People are getting money for setting them up now worth a hit. People are getting €20,000 and all for setting somebody up.

Mr Gillane said February 28 was set down as the date to perform the murder attempt on Mr Hutch. Capper had asked Smew in a recording "how good was his aim" and Smew replied "in the back of his head mate."

Mr Gillane said text messages were captured between Capper, Burns and Patrick Curtis, which centred on logistical matters. Burns later travelled to Liffey Valley Shopping Centre to meet an unknown person to take possession of a firearm, said Mr Gillane.

Recordings from inside the Mercedes vehicle showed a growing concern amongst the accused men about the arrival of Storm Emma, which created blizzard like conditions in Ireland, said Mr Gillane. Smew was separately arrested during the snow storm for taking part in the looting of a Centra store in Tallaght, when the shop had shut down in response to extreme weather conditions. He was remanded in custody which effectively ended his role in the plot to kill Mr Hutch, said Mr Gillane.

Capper withdrew from the plan to murder Mr Hutch three days before the proposed killing. Gary Thompson, his brother Glen Thompson and Robert Browne were the "replacement hit team" instead of the "original hit team" of Smew and Capper, said the barrister.

Evidence was given that Stephen Curtis had complained to Burns about how his brother Patrick was arranging things saying: "He gets it wrong all the time. He always gets it wrong. He is wrong bringing people to that coffee shop."

On March 10, Det Supt Gallagher said he was satisfied that the persons involved in the plot were imminently ready and in a position to carry out the murder of Mr Hutch so a decision was made to intervene. An armed intervention was carried out by the Emergency Response Unit at Belmont Apartments on Gardiner Street in Dublin 1 and the Thompson brothers and Browne were removed from the rear of a van in the underground carpark. Firearms, petrol cans and mobile phones were seized in the operation. Relevant data was obtained from the phones and led the investigation team to the other relevant participants involved, said the detective. Det Supt Gallagher said:

There was significant communication between Patrick Curtis' phone and the looker's phone as well as the team in Belmont Apartments.

Mr Gillane said two mobile phones were seized from Patrick Curtis' home, which showed his role and how his directions were to be carried out by the sub-cell. One of the phones was an encrypted Aquaris device and was unable to be accessed. However, the detective said that a Samsung phone also belonging to Patrick Curtis contained a number of personal and private data as well as photographs of messages taken from the encrypted device.

"It was established that the person using the pseudonym "Lordnose" was in communication with Patrick Curtis giving directions to him," said the detective. One of the messages from "Lordnose" read: "We need a new car, the van will have to be in the night before. No stupid chases and you have to be back in the van at 6.50pm and this has to be military." Another text from "Lordnose" to Patrick Curtis read "so the job is to be done on Wednesday morning" and he replied: ""Yeah pal will be done Wednesday, will you make sure we have someone to do the car." This was a reference to Mr Hutch's daughter's car at an address in Dublin 1, said Mr Gillane.

The detective said gardaí recovered a number of sheets of paper concerning the financial income and expenditure of the Kinahan gang sub-cell from Mr Curtis's address. A breakdown of the expenses and payments of the operation to murder Mr Hutch detailed a "starting balance" of €7,000, he said. Curtis was arrested on March 27 and Smew the following day.

The court heard that Patrick Curtis has 13 previous convictions which include road traffic, public order and violent disorder. Smew has 15 previous convictions which include damaging property, theft and the production of an article in the course of a fight.

Under cross-examination, Det Insp Gallagher agreed with defence counsel Michael O'Higgins SC, for Patrick Curtis, that his client was handing out directions and also receiving directions from "Lordnose". The detective also agreed that the plans had been devised at a higher level than "Lordnose" and his client was implementing them. He further agreed with the lawyer that the defendant had compromised the integrity of the encrypted phone system by taking screen grabs on his personal phones to keep a record and this "might be a clue as to his overall mental ability."

Under cross-examination, Det Insp Gallagher agreed with Michael Lynn SC, for Smew, that his client was not a member of the criminal gang but was a person on the ground who did what he was told. The detective said he agreed that Smew had no means at the time and was living in a hostel or hotel type accommodation. Mr Justice Hunt said the best thing Smew had going for him was "getting involved in the shenanigans during the snowstorm that put him out of the picture."

Mr O'Higgins called Dr Conor McGarry, a GP attached to Portlaoise Prison, to give evidence for the first time in his career on behalf of a prisoner. Dr McGarry said that Patrick Curtis, who has been diagnosed with excessive compulsive disorder, has historic issues which have impacted on his ability to cope with prison in Ireland. He said the defendant got locked in a car at the age of seven and broke his fingernails attempting to get out of the vehicle and suffers from a fear of being alone since. He began to suffer from panic attacks from the age of 17 years and went to a mental health service, he said.

The witness testified that Patrick Curtis suffers from irrational behaviour and blesses himself around sixty times a day to compensate for negative thoughts. He shares a cell in the A block of Portlaoise Prison with his brother Stephen as his anxiety levels are so bad. It has never previously happened that two prisoners have shared the same cell, said Dr McGarry.

Claustrophobia is Patrick Curtis' main issue and putting him in a cell is like putting a man with arachnophobia in a cell with spiders, said Dr McGarry. "It's an extra level of psychological trauma," he added. He suffers from tense anxiety, obsessional and depressed thoughts, he said: 

His symptoms are so severe that he expressed suicidal thoughts rather than enduring it. I've never before had a patient with such debilitating anxiety.

Patrick Curtis takes an antipsychotic drug as well as a very high dose of medication prescribed for depression and anxiety, he said. Dr McGarry explained that transporting the defendant in the prison van from prison to court is particularly difficult and Curtis feels he will lose consciousness. "He has a ritual where he sticks his foot below the door which gives him some relief," he added.

In mitigation, Mr O'Higgins said that Patrick Curtis was receiving directions from someone more senior and "making good" on those directions. The lawyer said Burns was a "much more active cog" in the machine or at least as active as his client. He agreed with Mr Justice Hunt that he was a "low-end director". Regarding his illness, Mr O'Higgins said his client had a very significant handicap and the court should take this into account and give appropriate weight to it.

Mr O'Higgins handed into court a very detailed psychological report of his client and said the fact he has a level of guilt and remorse was a promising insight. "On the individual facts of the case this is not top-heavy directional activity," he concluded, adding that the plan was an incompetent operation. He asked the judges to be as lenient as possible when sentencing his client.

Mr Lynn, for Smew, asked the court to take into account that his client was a disposable person and his role came to an end in February. He had no means at the time, was without a permanent home and had a drug problem, he said. Smew's family are originally from Libya but he was born in Ireland and grew up here with his six siblings. Both his parents are doctors, he embarked on a law degree at Griffith College but suffered a serious motorcycle accident which set him back and his mental health deteriorated, he submitted. The barrister said:
One cross he will always have to bear is the shame he has brought on his family. He cannot explain it himself and is profoundly ashamed of that.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Dermot Dempsey, remanded the two men in custody until August 31, when they will be sentenced.

Charges in Full:

Burns had pleaded guilty to passing instructions to one or more members of a criminal organisation and of acting as a conduit for communications by providing phones. He has also admitted transporting one or more members of a criminal organisation, moving one or more vehicles for subsequent use by one or more members of a criminal organisation and planning or assisting in planning the intended shooting of Mr Hutch.

O'Driscoll had pleaded guilty to agreeing to act as a look-out and to helping plan the intended shooting.

Stephen Curtis had admitted providing, or assisting in providing, one or more mobile phones for use by the criminal organisation and purchasing or assisting in the purchase of one or more mobile phones, sim cards and credit top-ups. The activities also include passing on the phone number of the "looker" (or look-out) - O'Driscoll - to a member of the criminal organisation and planning or assisting in planning the intended shooting of Mr Hutch.

Michael Burns (43), of no fixed abode, Ciaran O'Driscoll (25) of Avondale House, Cumberland Street, Dublin 1 and Stephen Curtis (32) of Bellman's Walk, Seville Place, Dublin 1 had admitted to having knowledge of the existence of a criminal organisation and participating in activities intended to facilitate the commission of a serious offence by that criminal organisation, or any of its members, namely the murder of Mr Hutch within the State between February 1 and March 10, 2018, both dates inclusive.

Gary Thompson, with an address at Plunkett Green in Finglas, Dublin 11, his brother Glen Thompson, of Plunkett Drive, also in Finglas, and Robert Browne, of Phibsboro Road in Phibsboro, Dublin 7 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 submachine gun, a .38 Special Calibre Rossi Make Revolver, a 9mm Beretta 92 semi-automatic pistol and a 9mm Makarov semi-automatic pistol.

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