Former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall told gardaí that he felt under threat from “the Hutchs and that organisation” and that he also felt in fear of “the Kinahans” as he was charged with the murder of cartel member David Byrne, the Special Criminal Court has heard.
Defence lawyer Brendan Grehan SC is challenging the admissibility of evidence to be given by Dowdall, who was a former co-accused of Gerard ‘The Monk’ Hutch but has turned State’s witness.
Dowdall has already been sentenced by the non-jury court for the lesser offence of facilitating the murder.
The evidence is being heard as part of a voir dire – or ‘trial within a trial’ – to help the court’s three judges determine its admissibility.
In his opening address, prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC said the evidence will be that Mr Hutch told Dowdall that he was “one of the team” that murdered Mr Byrne at the Regency Hotel in 2016. Mr Hutch (59), last of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin 3, denies the murder of Mr Byrne (33) during a boxing weigh-in at the hotel on February 5, 2016.
Last Friday, Brendan Grehan SC, for Mr Hutch, said he wished to raise an issue on the admissibility of evidence to be given by Dowdall on foot of the Supreme Court decision in DPP v Gilligan. In the Gilligan case, the Supreme Court found that while the evidence of a witness in a protection programme is admissible, it should be excluded if the circumstances in which it came about fall below the fundamental standard of fairness.
Under cross-examination today, retired Detective Superintendent Paul Scott formerly of Ballymun Garda station, told Mr Grehan that he received a phone call on November 22, 2021 from solicitor Jenny McGeever and that she indicated her client Jonathan Dowdall wished to speak to An Garda Síochana in relation to the Regency investigation.
Mr Scott said he met Ms McGeever in a consultation room in the Criminal Courts of Justice Building on November 29th 2021, where she read a pre-prepared document and indicated certain matters.
Mr Scott agreed with counsel that in effect there was “a set of conditions” upon which Dowdall was prepared to speak to gardaí and offer information. Mr Scott agreed with Mr Grehan it was clear in the first instance that Dowdall would not be making any cautioned statement that could be used against him in any way.
The next witness, Detective Sergeant Patrick O’Toole, told Mr Gillane that he had a number of roles in relation to the overall investigation.
He said that he was “closely connected” to events in the incident room and had been delegated the task of dealing with Dowdall in this context. Under cross-examination by Mr Grehan, Det Sgt O’Toole said he had no notes from his dealings with Dowdall but that his colleague had prepared “accurate” notes in his presence.
Det Sgt O’Toole said he became involved in dealing with developments in December 2021, when Det Supt Scott informed him that Dowdall wished to speak to gardaí, which was done through his solicitor.
Asked if he realised that Dowdall had set down through his solicitor a number of preconditions, Det Sgt O’Toole said he surmised that it was to do with the Regency investigation. Det Sgt O’Toole said Dowdall got bail in April 2022 but that he had no understanding of what the extent of their first meeting would be.
The witness said his task was to meet Dowdall and see what he had to say. Det Sgt O’Toole said he made contact with Dowdall’s wife Patricia on the evening of May 17th, 2022 and that she informed him on the phone that she and her husband wanted to speak about the shooting of Mr Byrne at the Regency Hotel, that she was in fear for the safety of her family and that Jonathan would be shot dead over this. Det Sgt O’Toole said he did not make any notes of this phone call.
Asked how he decided where to meet Dowdall and his wife, Det Sgt O’Toole said he had discussed this with Patricia and that he had picked Dublin Airport Garda station as he had a meeting there the next day. He said Patricia Dowdall sounded extremely scared and upset at what they were facing on the phone. Det Sgt O’Toole said the interview with Dowdall took place in the custody suite and that it had a back door which led out to a darkened area so it was suitable for going in and out.
Asked if he had made a conscious decision not to record the meeting, the witness said he was trying to provide comfortable surroundings as it was “very important for the taking of a statement”.
He said he did not caution the couple as they were not suspects at the time.
The detective said Patricia Dowdall had taken the role of “support for her husband” at the meeting on May 18th.
Asked by counsel if she had contributed apart from that, Det Sgt O’Toole said “not at that meeting” and that Dowdall “did all the talking”.
“They were both extremely nervous and in fear; initially there was a difficulty trying to calm them,” he said, adding that the meeting lasted three hours. Mr Grehan asked the witness if anything was said by Dowdall of what would happen to him or his family. “He just raised concerns for himself and his family and that he was under threat from the Hutchs and that organisation and in fear from the Kinahans as he was charged with murder”.
Mr Grehan said to the witness “let’s be careful” and Det Sgt O’Toole then said that Dowdall told him that “he felt under threat from the Hutchs and Kinahans”.
Asked if Dowdall had mentioned the “Provos”, the witness replied “not at that stage”. He said Dowdall and his wife left by the back door after the meeting.
Det Supt O’Toole said he suggested to Dowdall that a “good course of action” was to “go away and write down everything” he was aware of in relation to the Regency attack and the murder of Mr Byrne.
The witness said his understanding was that Dowdall would contact him when they were ready and they would meet again to discuss what he had written down. Mr Grehan put it to the witness that it seemed he did not make contact with Dowdall until his solicitor started writing “irate letters” to him.
“This was of his own free will he came to us and his own free will to come back to us,” said the detective.
On Monday afternoon, Det Sgt O’Toole told the court that Dowdall had wanted to “tell the truth” and it was Dowdall’s belief that he and his father had been used. Mr Grehan asked if Dowdall had not been concerned that he might be convicted of the murder charge he was going to face. “Yes and he said he was going to use it in his defence as well,” Det Sgt O’Toole replied. “How about getting the murder charge dropped?” Mr Grehan asked. “I did not discuss that with Mr Dowdall at all,” Det Sgt O’Toole replied. It never came up.”
After the gardaí asked him to put down everything he knew, Det Sgt O’Toole said at the next meeting on July 4th, Dowdall came up with a 50-page typed document. The court heard his wife had an eight page document at the following meeting on July 12th.
Referring to the meeting on July 4 which lasted over three hours, Det Sgt O’Toole said Dowdall returned with his document and gardaí asked for that to be read out. “He didn’t read it, the wife did and he listened,” said the detective. The court heard Dowdall had not signed the document but initialised each page individually to show that it was his document.
The detective said it was clear from this meeting that Dowdall was willing to make a statement and that all information from this meeting was provided to the investigation team and the DPP.
The witness said a statement was not taken from him on this date as he wanted to wait and see what the attitude of the DPP was as he was “a man before the courts”.
Mr Grehan asked the witness if he was aware that the DPP had written to Dowdall’s solicitor on September 16th, 2021 to confirm that a plea to facilitation was acceptable. Det Sgt O’Toole said his knowledge was that a section 72 charge was being preferred and that a nolle prosequi was going to be entered but that he had not discussed it with Dowdall as it was not his position.
The detective said he had a conversation with Dowdall on September 22nd to see if he wished to make a statement and told him when he makes a statement that he may or may not be used as a State witness and that a statement doesn’t mean he will be automatically protected. An arrangement was made to take a voluntary statement from Dowdall on September 23rd 2022 and he “fully signed” it. The witness said Dowdall knew when he made the statement that it did not guarantee anything and that nothing was being offered to him.
Dowdall was charged with facilitating the murder of Mr Byrne on September 28 this year.
Mr Grehan put it to the witness that he had given “very soft evidence” at Dowdall’s sentence hearing in October in terms of his involvement in the Regency. “Would you agree or not agree you soft-pedalled evidence at Dowdall’s sentencing hearing on the limited facts he pleaded guilty to?” asked Mr Grehan. The witness disagreed and said the Special Criminal Court had sentenced Dowdall in accordance with the facts.
Jonathan Dowdall (44) – a married father of four with an address at Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 7 – was due to stand trial for Mr Byrne’s murder alongside Mr Hutch but pleaded guilty in advance of the trial to a lesser charge of facilitating the Hutch gang by making a hotel room available ahead of the murder. Dowdall has been jailed by the Special Criminal Court for four years for facilitating the Hutch gang in the notorious murder of Mr Byrne.
The former Dublin councillor is currently being assessed for the Witness Protection Program after agreeing to testify against former co-accused Gerard Hutch, who is charged with Mr Byrne’s murder.
Dowdall is expected to give evidence against his former co-accused Mr Hutch in the coming days. Mr Byrne, from Crumlin, was shot dead at the hotel in Whitehall, Dublin 9 after five men, three disguised as armed gardaí in tactical clothing and carrying AK-47 assault rifles, stormed the building during the attack, which was hosting a boxing weigh-in at the time.
The victim was shot by two of the tactical assailants and further rounds were delivered to his head and body. Mr Byrne died after suffering catastrophic injuries from six gunshots fired from a high-velocity weapon to the head, face, stomach, hand and legs.
Mr Hutch’s two co-accused – Paul Murphy (61), of Cherry Avenue, Swords, Co Dublin and Jason Bonney (50), of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock, Dublin 13 have pleaded not guilty to participating in or contributing to the murder of David Byrne by providing access to motor vehicles on February 5, 2016.
The trial continues before Ms Justice Tara Burns sitting with Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Grainne Malone.