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Why was Gerard Hutch tried for murder?

Many were surprised a murder charge was pursued against Hutch, who is now free after a 13-week trial

Weekend Hutch image

Gerard Hutch gathered with family members in a north Dublin house on Monday evening after his acquittal for the murder of David Byrne in the Regency Hotel in the city in 2016. The 60-year-old father of five – and a grandfather – wasn’t hiding away in the days that followed. After a haircut and shave he was seen out and about, on foot and being driven around, in one Dublin suburb.

The Irish Times called this week to the property where he stayed after being freed on Monday, though nobody came to the door. That location is not being disclosed here because of the continued risk to his life from the Kinahan cartel due to the Kinahan-Hutch feud.

At first glance, this may appear to be a tale of organised crime’s survivor once again fighting the law and emerging on top. However, Hutch’s acquittal at the Special Criminal Court, especially the manner in which the case against him so spectacularly fell apart, will ripple through legal and policing circles for some time.

But what will happen to Hutch now? And what of the Garda and the DPP’s office, indeed the Special Criminal Court? Are they badly damaged following this controversial failed effort to convict the man known as The Monk for one of gangland’s most notorious murders?


Gerard Hutch

Garda sources expect him to go abroad, perhaps by this weekend. They pointed out that he was mostly living in Lanzarote when the Kinahan-Hutch feud started to ramp up in 2014-2015. “He has tended to go to these places where there’s a lot of Irish and British tourists – Spain, Turkey – and he’d need to have a look at that because the Kinahans could easily find him there,” said one source, adding that Hutch had “plenty of money” from his property portfolio.

However, another suggested he may be safer in Dublin. “The Kinahans are much weaker in Ireland than they were at the time of the Regency attack. So staying here may not be as crazy as it seems.”

Another detective agreed, saying the Garda would be more likely than a foreign police force to pick up intelligence about any plan to kill Hutch and to act on that information and thwart such an attack. The source pointed out that the Kinahan cartel’s plans to kill Hutch’s older brother, Patsy Hutch, in north inner city Dublin on several occasions during the worst periods of violence in the Kinahan-Hutch feud were foiled by the Garda and the would-be killers jailed.

“[Gerard Hutch] could be in some place like the Canaries and the police there would have no idea who he was, or where he was. So they’re not going to be coming into intelligence about conspiracies to kill him and catching [gunmen] red-handed.”

Aside from the extreme threat to his life from the Kinahan cartel, Hutch also remains under investigation by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (GNBCI).

It is investigating allegations he directed a crime gang and that his leadership role enabled him to pay for information held by the Garda. They are especially interested in finding out if Hutch was tipped off from inside the Garda about a European arrest warrant issued for him in March 2021, just after the DPP directed he should be charged with the Byrne murder.

Former Garda superintendent John Murphy (63) is suspected of harvesting information from serving gardaí and passing it to Hutch. Currently serving a sentence for possessing cannabis valued at €260,000 in 2021, he was arrested as part of the inquiry in February while Hutch was arrested last year as he waited to go on trial for the Byrne murder.

However, a number of Garda and legal sources believed the DPP would now be “reticent” to press new charges against Hutch given the embarrassing failure of the Byrne murder trial. The same sources said the DPP would be “spooked” about how badly the trial had gone and would need “overwhelming” evidence before pursuing any new charges, related to any offences, against him.

Jonathan Dowdall

Former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall was a close friend of members of the Hutch family, having grown up beside them in Dublin’s north inner city. Those friendships, coupled with the fact he admitted to aiding the Regency gang, made him a valuable supergrass witness, on paper. In reality, his testimony was not believed. The court’s ruling described him as “a ruthless, base, callous criminal”. He was also a proven liar and continued to lie during his evidence; a big problem in a case largely constructed around his testimony.

Dowdall (44) has been accepted into the witness security programme. He was jailed for four years last September for facilitating the Regency gang. He reserved a room at the hotel used by one of the gunmen. His father, Patrick Dowdall, also pled guilty to the same offence and was jailed for two years.

Dowdall is in Limerick Prison where he is locked away – with his father – from the rest of the prison population for his own safety. He is on a 23-hour lockdown regime, with meals delivered to his cell. He has access to exercise machines in a small corridor outside his cell.

While his sentence was due to expire in the second half of 2025, security sources said he would likely be freed early. That would be done for the purposes of Dowdall secretly being moved abroad to another English-speaking jurisdiction willing to accept him under the witness security programme, assuming his application to the programme is approved. The threat level to Dowdall, sources said, would remain “extremely high for years” from the Hutch gang.

Dowdall is a married man whose four children ranged in ages from 11 to 25 years when he was jailed last September. He was expected to be resettled abroad with his wife and younger children. Those family members who stayed in Ireland – including his parents and older children – will remain a security challenge for the Irish authorities, sources said. However, several gardaí believe those family members would not be harmed by the Hutch gang, despite threats already made against them.

How Dowdall, his wife and young children will cope when they leave Ireland, never to return, remains to be seen. And nobody will know how the Dowdalls – or whatever they will be called next – are faring if all goes according to plan and they simply ‘vanish’.

“A lot of people who have gone into the witness protection programme have never had any employment history,” said one source. “But Dowdall has run a successful business in the past so he might cope better.”

A number of Garda sources believed that, given his profile, there was a real risk Dowdall’s identity would emerge wherever he was relocated. They pointed to the sheer volume of images of him online. Those photographs of him feature in the news reports about his former role in Sinn Féin – some alongside its leader Mary Lou McDonald – as well as his connection to the Hutch family and Regency attack and his previous conviction for falsely imprisoning, waterboarding and threatening to kill a man in 2015.

“With online news and social media ... he’s been all over it for years. Can a guy like him, these days, get a new name and just start again and nobody ever works out who he is?” asked one Garda source.

The Regency inquiry

Four men stand convicted of crimes relating to the Regency attack. Dowdall and his father facilitated the gang by booking a hotel room, which was used by one of the gunmen. Paul Murphy (61) of Cherry Avenue, Swords, Co Dublin, and Jason Bonney (50) of Drumnigh Woods, Portmarnock, Dublin, went on trial alongside Gerard Hutch. Both were found guilty of aiding the killers, by acting as getaway drivers on the day, and will be sentenced next month.

However, the two men charged with the murder of David Byrne at the hotel in 2016 were not convicted. Hutch was acquitted last Monday. His nephew, Patrick Hutch Jnr, was put on trial four years ago but the process effectively collapsed after it was beset with problems.

It is now just over seven years since the Regency Hotel attack; a passage of time that weakens the prospect of, but does not disbar, future prosecutions. Dowdall is now so discredited he can never be used as a witness in the prosecution of any other suspects. The trial against Hutch also suggests the quality and quantity of evidence gathered to date is not what the investigators would have hoped for, though the investigation continues.

However, Garda sources pointed to the fact the Special Criminal Court accepted beyond reasonable doubt the AK47s seized in the weeks after the attack were the ones used at the Regency on the day. The court also accepted beyond reasonable doubt a number of named men had handled the firearms before or after the attack. Some of those men have not been charged with any offences related to the Regency. Garda sources pointed out there was no impediment to charging some of them with possession of the AK47s in the context of aiding the attack. A number of gardaí who spoke to The Irish Times also noted how the Special Criminal Court concluded the Regency attack was a Hutch family enterprise and, specifically, that the evidence might suggest Patsy Hutch was chief organiser.

Garda and justice system

The trial of Gerard Hutch heard extracts from a 10-hour conversation he had with Dowdall – secretly recorded by the Garda’s National Surveillance Unit (NSU) – as the two men drove to Northern Ireland. Much of the tape was recorded in the North, where the Garda has no powers. However, the three-judge Special Criminal Court ruled while the recordings represented evidence gathered unlawfully, the tapes were admissible as gardaí had acted in good faith. The Garda also conceded in court it had destroyed data from a tracking device on Dowdall’s car. While that looked like a big blow to the prosecution, it soon emerged the Garda’s efforts to delete the data had not been successful and the information was retrieved by the force’s cyber experts. That was an especially controversial part of the case, particularly during such a high-profile trial before the Special Criminal Court, around which there were already civil rights concerns.

“None of that is going to win [any gardaí] ‘employee of the month’,” said one legal source. However, he said the court ruled the illegally recorded conversation was admissible, which it was entitled to. While it was “embarrassing” and even “damaging” for the Garda to admit it deleted the tracker data only to recover it, that “cock-up” had “no consequences at all for the case”, though it pointed to haphazard practices in the Garda around how it handled sensitive data.

A number of legal sources and Garda members – who did not work on the case – said they were surprised a murder charge was pursued against Hutch. They pointed out that Hutch was charged with murder long before Dowdall turned State’s witness. While his evidence was ultimately not credible when run in court, if it was removed there was effectively no evidence. Yet the sources added that strong evidence would have been required to support the unusually specific case the DPP ran against Hutch; that he had been one of the shooters with the AK47s at the Regency. That claim appears to have been based solely – and as it turned out, unwisely – on claims made by Dowdall during Garda interviews.

“You’d have to say the decision to charge [Hutch] with murder is the most unusual aspect now that the dust has settled a bit,” said one source familiar with public prosecutions. “And then the way the case was run – relying so heavily on Dowdall and his claim Hutch was one of the gunmen, even though that was so unlikely ... None of that covers the DPP’s office in glory.”

One legal source put it bluntly, saying it was likely some of the judges who have presided over the Special Criminal Court since its foundation in 1939 would have convicted Hutch on the evidence available. This was because they were known as so-called tough judges, with a reputation for high conviction rates when sitting in the Special Criminal Court.

Another security source pointed out that while the case for a time looked like it would generate renewed concerns around the use of the juryless Special Criminal Court, he believed the opposite was now true.

“They had three people on trial,” he said. “There was evidence to support the guilt of two of them, and they were convicted. And then the court found there wasn’t the evidence to convict Gerry Hutch and it acquitted him. You’d have to say, that’s exactly what any court is supposed to do.”

And what about the decision to use Dowdall – a proven liar and convicted criminal – as the key witness?

Sources familiar with trials involving supergrass witnesses said they are often fraught with problems. They pointed out two such witnesses were used in the trials of drug dealer John Gilligan, and his associates, with mixed results. That included Gilligan’s acquittal for the 1996 murder of journalist Veronica Guerin. In 2011 four men were charged with the murder of drug smuggler Johnny Carroll (33) in The Coombe, Dublin, in February, 2009. Those charges were based on a man involved in the murder agreeing to turn supergrass after the State granted him immunity from prosecution. However, only one of the four men was convicted.

In another case Alan Wilson, New Street Gardens, Dublin 8, was charged with the murder of Marioara Rostas in central Dublin in 2008. Wilson was prosecuted after the man who helped him bury the Romanian teenager’s body in the Wicklow Mountains agreed to testify against him. Despite that evidence of the accomplice-turned-supergrass, Wilson was acquitted.

“Sometimes supergrass evidence doesn’t work in these cases,” said one source. “Dowdall gave statements to the Garda about Hutch; including that Hutch admitted to him he was one of the gunmen. That would have been examined and stress-tested and a view was taken that the evidence was capable of being believed. In that sense, at the start there was a case there. But when it was stress-tested in the actual court it was found to be wanting. But that’s the very purpose of criminal litigation.”