Jonathan Dowdall available as a witness in Gerard Hutch trial, court hears

Risk assessment carried out by gardaí suggested a 'severe' risk to Dowdall and members of his family after giving statement on murder of David Byrne in 2016
Jonathan Dowdall available as a witness in Gerard Hutch trial, court hears

Special Criminal Court was told Jonathan Dowdall will never live in Ireland again.

Former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall is being assessed for the Witness Protection Program after giving a statement to gardaí that implicates another or others in the murder of David Byrne, who was shot dead at the Regency Hotel in 2016 as part of the Hutch/Kinahan gang feud.

Dowdall, who last week pleaded guilty to facilitating Mr Byrne's murder by making a hotel room available for the Hutch gang ahead of the murder, will never again live in Ireland, a garda told the three-judge Special Criminal Court this morning.

Detective Sergeant Patrick O'Toole agreed with Mr Dowdall's barrister Michael O'Higgins SC that the decision to give a statement to gardaí has placed a "very heavy burden" on Dowdall and his family. He further agreed that while Dowdall has known the Hutch family since he was a teenager and occasionally borrowed money from them, he is not a member of any criminal organisation. The detective added that Dowdall did not benefit from the activities of the Hutch crime gang.

Mr O'Higgins told the court that, due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, all forms of sentencing were available, including the imposition of a suspended sentence. "He has made himself available as a witness which means his life is over. No injustice is done by giving him a suspended sentence," counsel said.

Dowdall was in court for a sentencing hearing on Monday morning alongside his father Patrick Dowdall, who also pleaded guilty to facilitating the murder of David Byrne. Both men were brought into court by two plain clothes gardaí through the jury entrance rather than the cells or public entrance. 

Det. Sgt O'Toole said that the Dowdall family is now in protective garda custody, which has been a "significant shock". A risk assessment carried out by gardaí suggested a "severe" risk to Dowdall and members of his family.

Mr O'Higgins said: 

It's like taking your life and standing it on its head.

Det, Sgt O'Toole confirmed that following his arrest in relation to the Byrne murder, Dowdall said he wanted to speak to someone about the Witness Protection Program and indicated he was willing to make a statement as to his knowledge of what happened at the Regency.

He gave what Det. Sgt O'Toole described as a "sincere and genuine" statement to gardaí and has made himself available as a witness in the upcoming trial of Gerard 'The Monk' Hutch, who is charged with Mr Byrne's murder. That trial is due to start today.

In his statement, Dowdall has implicated another person or persons, the detective confirmed, adding that the information is of benefit to the prosecution.

The court also heard details of the offence committed by Dowdall and his father Patrick Dowdall. Det. Sgt O'Toole told prosecution counsel, Sean Gillane SC, that room 2104 in the Regency Hotel was booked using Patrick Dowdall's credit card on February 4, 2016, one day before Mr Byrne's murder. 

He said a man wearing a flat cap - identified as the now deceased Kevin Murray - can be observed on CCTV entering the hotel and approaching the room. Mr Murray died from motor neurone disease in 2017 before he could be brought to trial.

When questioned by gardaí, Patrick Dowdall said that he had cancelled the room and not used it but CCTV from the hotel showed him arriving on February 4, 2016, and receiving two key cards from reception. He then went to the room and used a key card to enter. He left a few minutes later. He then went with Jonathan Dowdall and gave the key cards to a man who was a known member of the Hutch criminal organisation.

The three-judge court adjourned sentencing of Jonathan Dowdall and his father Patrick Dowdall after hearing submissions from Jonathan Dowdall’s counsel Mr Michael O’ Higgins SC and Patrick Dowdall's barrister Mr Michael Bowman SC.

A significant security operation took place at the Criminal Courts of Justice building on Parkgate Street today. Members of the Gardaí’s Armed Support Unit and Emergency Response Unit were present in the building. Sadie Byrne was in court to hear the proceedings against the Dowdalls, who facilitated the murder of her son David during the Hutch/Kinahan feud.

Background

Jonathan Dowdall - a married father of four with an address at Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 7 - was due to stand trial on Monday for Mr Byrne's murder alongside Gerard 'The Monk' Hutch (59) but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of facilitating the shooting at the Special Criminal Court last Wednesday.

Mr Hutch, last of The Paddocks, Clontarf, is due to go on trial later today charged with murdering Kinahan gang member David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Whitehall, Dublin on February 5, 2016.

Last week, Jonathan Dowdall (44) and his father Patrick Dowdall (65), also of Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 7, both admitted facilitating the murder of Mr Byrne as part of the Hutch/Kinahan feud.

Both men pleaded guilty to participating in or contributing to activity intending to or being reckless as to whether such participation or contribution could facilitate the commission of a serious offence by a criminal organisation or any of its members, to wit the murder of David Byrne, by making a room available at the Regency Hotel, Drumcondra, Dublin 9 for that criminal organisation or its members, within the State on February 4, 2016.

Jonathan Dowdall, who served as an elected Sinn Féin councillor in the north inner city ward in May 2014 and resigned less than one year later, had been charged in April 2021 at the non-jury court with the murder of Mr Byrne (34), from Crumlin, at the Regency Hotel in Whitehall, north Dublin. That charge is now expected to be withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Byrne was shot dead at the hotel in Swords, Co. Dublin, on February 5, 2016, after five men, three disguised as armed gardaí, stormed the building.

The events of February 5, 2016

At today's sentencing hearing, Detective Sergeant Patrick O'Toole told prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane SC that the Regency Hotel hosted a weigh-in for a boxing event on February 5, 2016, and that the event was due to take place on the following day.

Mr Gillane said the event, which was widely publicised, was part of a larger promotion where a number of Irish and international boxers were on the programme and it was advertised as "The Clash of the Clans". 

The court heard it was a co-production between boxing promoter Frank Warren and MGM Promotions and was scheduled to take place on the main stage in the Regency suite from around 2pm that afternoon. A very large group of people including trainers, managers and members of the public were in the room that day.

At 2.20pm on February 5, Mr Gillane said that the weigh-in was underway when a silver Ford Transit van pulled up at the Regency Hotel. Minutes later, a man wearing a flat-cap and a man dressed up as a woman emerged from that direction and went into the hotel. The two individuals entered through the laundry room and were seen by a number of staff. They were captured on CCTV footage proceeding towards the weigh-in.

The Sergeant said a boxer was having his weigh-in completed when a number of shots were discharged. "The man with the cap and the man in the wig were observed in the suite carrying handguns and seen following people who were moving away," said Mr Gillane.

People were running towards the larger function room and these two individuals "gave chase" towards those that were running away.

At 2.30pm, the same silver Ford transit van pulled up in front of the hotel and three individuals dressed as gardaí armed with assault rifles went into the hotel. The presence of people dressed as gardaí caused further confusion as it was believed they were gardaí. "They too began to discharge their firearms on entering the hotel which escalated the panic and people ran towards the exit and reception area," said counsel.

Mr Gillane said it was clear from the conduct of the men dressed in tactical clothing and the man wearing a wig and the other in a flat cap that "particular people were being looked for".

The Regency Hotel where David Byrne was shot dead on February 5, 2016
The Regency Hotel where David Byrne was shot dead on February 5, 2016

David Byrne was captured on CCTV footage running from the suite area towards the reception area and encountering the men dressed in tactical gear. Mr Byrne was shot by two of the tactical men and further rounds were delivered to his head and body.

Mr Byrne's cause of death was six gunshot wounds including injuries to his head, face, abdomen and thighs. Thereafter, the tactical team searched through the bar and reception area performing a loop through the hotel. "It is clear from what can be observed that they were all acting together," said Mr Gillane.

The silver van carrying the assailants then travelled to the nearby Charlemont estate, where it was burned out. Live and discharged rounds of ammunition were later discovered in the van and were found to be capable of being discharged from AK47 rifles.

Mr Gillane said that it was adjacent to St Vincent's GAA club where a number of the men made their escape and an investigation immediately commenced.

Counsel said it was immediately apparent that it had been an "execution-style killing" which had a significant element of planning and spoke to "the involvement of an organised crime group rather than some random attack".

Counsel put it to the officer that his colleague had first-hand knowledge of "a violent and murderous feud" commonly referred to as the Hutch/Kinahan feud. Det. Sgt O'Tooole agreed that gardaí had particular knowledge of the Hutch criminal organisation and their "strong inter-generational family bonds".

Room 2104

Outlining the events that led up to the incident, Mr Gillane said there had been a particular focus on Room 2104 in the Regency Hotel. The room had been booked in the name of Patrick Dowdall and his mobile phone number was also on the hotel's system.

Mr Gillane said the room had been booked and reserved over the phone and that a credit card connected to a family member of the Dowdalls had been used to secure it.

Det. Sgt O'Toole explained that his colleague made contact with Patrick Dowdall and he admitted booking the room but claimed he had cancelled it.

At 7.20pm on February 4, Patrick Dowdall can be seen on CCTV entering the Regency Hotel and engaging with reception, where he paid for the room in cash and received two key cards. Patrick Dowdall was then seen getting into the lift, using a key card to enter the hotel room and leaving the room minutes later.

Mr Gillane said a phone associated with Jonathan Dowdall had used a mast at the hotel and that Jonathan Dowdall and his father had been in Strabane earlier that day but had returned to Dublin. Counsel said the Dowdalls then met another person who is a member of a criminal organisation and handed the key cards to him.

On the night of February 4, a man identified as the now deceased Kevin Murray, who was wearing a flat-cap, was captured exiting a taxi and going straight up to the hotel room. It was clear Murray had a key card, added counsel.

The following morning, Murray can be seen leaving the hotel room at 10.30am and carrying a heavy green hold-all bag to the lobby. He waited there until he was picked up by a taxi and dropped into the city. Murray along with another male arrived at 11:30am at another location, where several vehicles were circulating.

On March 7, 2016, a month after the shooting, Jonathan Dowdall travelled north of Dublin and met the person to whom the room key cards had been given. They drove together from Dublin to Northern Ireland while surveillance gardaí recorded their conversation. They returned to Dublin the same day.

On March 9, another man already dealt with by the courts was stopped in Co. Meath and assault rifles were found in his car. The discharge cases which had been received from the Regency shooting were recovered and it was found that they came from these rifles.

The court heard that Jonathan and Patrick Dowdall have previous convictions for false imprisonment, threatening to kill and causing serious harm from January 2015.

Garda testimony

Under cross-examination, Det. Sgt O'Toole agreed with defence counsel Mr O'Higgins that the former Dublin city councillor had spent most of his life in the north inner city, a community he was heavily invested in. His mother-in-law was "an intergenerational or third generation market trader" and had a stall.

Det Sgt O'Toole also agreed with the barrister that Jonathan Dowdall had always been employed, was very hard-working and had been an electrician by trade. He started his own company in 2007 offering electrical services and that company had become very successful and was "flying high" with blue chip clients including banks and Government departments, the court heard.

The detective further agreed with counsel that Jonathan Dowdall was regarded as a very good employer and employed numerous people from the locality and provided apprenticeships.

Gardaí have said they were satisfied that Jonathan Dowdall was not a member of the Hutch criminal organisation but that he knew the Hutch family from the age of 15.
Gardaí have said they were satisfied that Jonathan Dowdall was not a member of the Hutch criminal organisation but that he knew the Hutch family from the age of 15.

Mr O'Higgins said that Jonathan Dowdall had borrowings from the Hutch family and that his mother borrowed money for stock in 2007 but was not in a position to repay that money. "Sometimes members of the Hutch family wanted to purchase things online such as holidays and it was not unusual for the Dowdall's to pay these sums and they would be reimbursed. That would give a fair summary of the relationship that existed between them," said counsel.

Referring to his personal circumstances, the detective agreed with Mr O'Higgins that gardaí were satisfied that Jonathan Dowdall was not a member of the Hutch criminal organisation but that he knew the Hutch family from the age of 15.

The witness agreed with counsel that gardaí established the person using the room in the Regency Hotel was Kevin Murray, who had had known paramilitary connections with the IRA. He agreed an "unusual aspect of the case" was that Mr Murray was very visible over the course of the day on CCTV footage and walked around the hotel freely. The witness agreed that at one point, Mr Murray was seen on CCTV footage with a handgun held aloft.

"One of the garda views was that Mr Murray was there to attract attention on the basis that if gardaí applied resources to the investigation they would be misdirected in a paramilitary direction," said Mr O'Higgins.

Witness Protection

When Jonathan Dowdall was interviewed, the court heard that he said he had volunteered to travel with Patsy Hutch to Spain in 2015 when his son Gary Hutch was killed.

Mr O'Higgins said that when Jonathan Dowdall was arrested he indicated that he wished to speak to someone in the Witness Protection Programme and that he had indicated in November last year that he was willing to make a statement to gardaí about his knowledge of the Regency Hotel shooting.

Jonathan Dowdall was interviewed by gardaí and they then set about checking the information supplied by him. A formal statement was taken from Jonathan last week, said counsel.

Mr O'Higgins said his client was now available as a witness in the forthcoming trial and that he had indicated his availability to give evidence. "He has implicated other persons and that is potentially of interest to the prosecution," said counsel.

Mr O'Higgins said that this has "very dark consequences" for the Dowdalls and his family have been taken into protective garda custody in the short term, which is a very considerable shock to the systems.

As part of the process, gardaí had to carry out a risk assessment arising from Jonathan Dowdall's actions, which found the risk to be very severe, said counsel.

"There is a group within the gardaí known as the witness security programme and it will be their role to meet and assess people who are put at risk. People are assessed and admitted into the programme and it involves resettling abroad and being equipped with a new identity. 

"The net effect of that is in so far as looking into the future one will never be returning to Ireland. In effect, it is like taking your life and standing it on its head. They are the consequences but they are pretty grim," said Mr O'Higgins.

In mitigation, Mr O'Higgins said his client was not aware of the purpose or the significance for which the room in the Regency was to be used and that Jonathan had not used the hotel room.

Another factor in mitigation, he said, was that Jonathan Dowdall had given material assistance not just for the offence he was charged with but "beyond that".

The lawyer asked the court to take into account that his client's life and the lives of his family were "effectively over". "He has to live in permanent exile and spend his life looking over his shoulder," he added.

In his submissions, Mr O'Higgins said his client, who is currently in a high state of agitation, doesn't regret telling the truth but regrets the collateral damage to third parties.

Mr O'Higgins submitted that his client had set in train a process which began in November of last year and that all forms of sentencing were available to the court due to the exceptional circumstances of the case, including the imposition of a suspended sentence.

Michael Bowman SC, for Patrick Dowdall, said his client was advancing in years and had deteriorating health, including a history of depression, which shortened his life expectancy. He also asked the court to consider giving his client a suspended sentence given the exceptional circumstances he now finds himself in.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge James Faughnan, remanded the Dowdalls in custody until October 17, when they will be sentenced.

Previous convictions

In June 2017, Jonathan Dowdall was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment and Patrick Dowdall eight years' imprisonment by the Special Criminal Court for physically and mentally torturing a man they both suspected of trying to defraud them. They had both pleaded guilty at the non-jury Special Criminal Court to falsely imprisoning Alexander Hurley and threatening to kill him at Jonathan's family home on January 15, 2015.

However, the Dowdalls successfully appealed their sentences before the Court of Appeal in April 2018 and Jonathan Dowdall was resentenced to 10 years' imprisonment with the final 25 months suspended and Patrick Dowdall to seven with the final three years suspended.

Gardaí had attended Jonathan Dowdall's home on foot of a search warrant for an unrelated matter, where a USB stick was discovered, analysed and found to contain a video of a person, Mr Hurley, being detained and assaulted.

Mr Hurley had come into contact with the Dowdalls when he responded to an online ad for Jonathan's motorbike. He attended Jonathan's home on January 12, 2015, where he examined the bike and tried on some motorcycle clothing. 

Three days later, Jonathan Dowdall invited Mr Hurley to dinner in his home and picked him up outside the Rotunda Hospital. On arrival, Mr Hurley was forced into a garage attached to the house and tied to a chair with cable ties by Patrick Dowdall.

He was then questioned at length in relation to alleged acts of dishonesty carried out by him. The Dowdalls were "convinced" Mr Hurley was attempting to obtain Jonathan Dowdall's bank details with a view to accessing the account and defrauding him and that he was not genuinely interested in a motor bike.

Footage recorded on a mobile phone was shown to the Special Criminal Court and Court of Appeal of Jonathan Dowdall wearing a balaclava and holding a tea-towel to the man's face before pouring water over his head, in what is commonly known as waterboarding. Patrick Dowdall was heard threatening to pull off Mr Hurley’s fingers one-by-one with a pair of pliers.

A 10-minute video clip of what occurred, "taken by a young woman also present", was shown to both the Special Criminal Court and the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal found that what took place in the garage over a two-hour period was "truly appalling and shocking".

Mr Hurley was told he would be chopped up and taken to Northern Ireland, that he would be buried in the mountains, his head burnt at the stake and that a pliers would be used to remove knuckles from his hands.

The Dowdalls told Mr Hurley that they were members of the IRA and that Jonathan Dowdall was a close friend of two prominent Sinn Féin politicians.

He also heard the Dowdalls and a third person discussing aloud what they were considering doing to him including feeding him to dogs, chopping him up and placing him in cellophane bags and storing him in the boot of a BMW.

Following his release, Mr Hurley was threatened that he and his family, including his parents, would be dead within 48 hours if Gardaí were alerted.

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