Jonathan Dowdall was nervous and in fear as he and his wife Patricia spoke to gardaí at a secret meeting in Dublin Airport Garda Station. The Kinahans might want to kill him because he was accused of murdering their man David Byrne at the Regency Hotel. The Hutch crime gang might want him dead because he was “filling in the gaps” for gardaí by speaking to them “with a stream of consciousness” about “one of the most notorious murders” the country has ever seen. And the Provisional IRA might be after him for one reason or another.
Det Sgt Patrick O’Toole said there was “difficulty trying to calm” Dowdall and Patricia during the three-hour meeting. Dowdall was “dangling” information that gardaí investigating the David Byrne murder wanted. Yet Dowdall, himself accused of the murder at the time, didn’t want his own words to be used against him and was seeking immunity in respect of what he was providing.
Through his solicitor, the ex-Sinn Fein councillor had sent gardaí a list of “very clear restrictive preconditions” before he would talk. He was not to be cautioned before speaking, so that his words could not be used against him in a trial. He also didn’t want the statement disclosed to anyone else unless he was giving evidence as a prosecution witness.
Gerard Hutch (59), last of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin 3, denies the murder of Byrne (33) during a boxing weigh-in at the hotel on February 5, 2016.
Regency hotel trial: Two men convicted of facilitating attack each sentenced to more than 8 years in prison
The Special Criminal Court ruled that the evidence to be given by former co-accused turned State’s witness Jonathan Dowdall is admissible and he is expected to give evidence before the court on Monday.
Prosecution barrister Seán Gillane revealed during his opening speech at the start of the trial that part of the evidence will be that, within days of the shooting, Hutch arranged to meet Dowdall and told him he was “one of the team” that murdered David Byrne.
Gardaí told Dowdall to write down everything he knew about the Regency and he showed up with a 50-page typed document. His wife read it to gardaí and Dowdall refused to sign it
How Dowdall made his statement has been the subject of controversy in the trial.
Gardaí met Dowdall on three occasions “to see the colour of his money”. This has been described in court by Gerard Hutch’s lawyer as a “a very careful choreographed dance” and a “tease” from Dowdall as he slowly revealed what he knew about the murder of Kinahan cartel member Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Dublin on February 5th, 2016. Each meeting was hours long.
No quid pro quo
Gardaí told Dowdall to write down everything he knew about the Regency and he showed up with a 50-page typed document. His wife read it to gardaí and Dowdall refused to sign it, but he did mark it with his initials. In the background there were letters going back and forth between his solicitor and the DPP.
Dowdall’s lawyer, Jenny McGeever, was clear in her communications with the DPP that Dowdall was asking for the murder charge to be dropped or downgraded solely because he was innocent of the murder charge and not as part of a quid pro quo. He had, by then, come to believe that he had been used by the Hutch organisation.
In one letter, McGeever said that Dowdall had indicated he was willing to give evidence for the prosecution but he could not be a witness and an accused in the same bill of indictment. She added: “We wish also to emphasise that our client is requesting that the DPP enter a nolle prosequi in respect of the count of murder on the basis that he is not guilty of that offence and not on the basis of any quid pro quo.”
Hutch’s lawyer, Brendan Grehan SC, suggested to Det Supt Joseph McLoughlin that the only logical reading of the email was that it would be necessary for the DPP to drop the murder charge if they wanted Dowdall to give evidence.
But Det Supt McLoughlin insisted that the decision to downgrade the murder charge was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions in isolation to any statement Dowdall might make to gardaí about David Byrne’s murder.
Grehan argued that the DPP refused to enter a nolle prosequi on Dowdall’s murder charge on September 2nd but within two weeks it had a “change of heart” and accepted a plea from the father of four to facilitating the murder. The barrister said: “We don’t know what happened, the court doesn’t know what happened and all we know is it did happen.”
Ultimately, the barrister submitted that the former electrician [Dowdall] effectively had the prosecution ‘over a barrel’
The timeline of these events is central to understanding the arguments being made. Dowdall was charged with Byrne’s murder on April 27th, 2021. Gardaí met Dowdall and his wife three times in 2022 – on May 18th, July 4th and July 12th – before taking a statement.
On September 16th this year the DPP wrote to confirm that a plea to the lesser charge of facilitation was acceptable and a statement was taken from Dowdall a week later on September 23rd. Dowdall was charged on September 28th this year with facilitating the murder of Byrne and his murder charge was only formally dropped after Dowdall’s sentencing hearing in October, on the eve of the Regency trial beginning.
The evidence at Dowdall’s sentencing hearing suggested that he had been involved in procuring a hotel room at the Regency that was used by members of the gang.
Dowdall is serving a four-year sentence for that crime and he is being assessed for witness protection when he gets out of prison.
Grehan said Dowdall had agreed to give a statement where he had the most powerful possible incentive to implicate Hutch if he was going to succeed in getting the murder charge dropped. Ultimately, the barrister submitted that the former electrician effectively had the prosecution “over a barrel”.
Grehan also claimed that gardaí had made a deliberate decision not to record the encounters electronically with Dowdall so that there would not be a complete account of what took place.
However, gardaí have rejected the claim that there was a “quid pro quo”, and “stubbornly insisted”, under rigorous cross examination by Mr Grehan, that the decision to downgrade the murder charge may have happened at the same time as Dowdall agreed to give a statement, but the two were unrelated.
Mr Grehan said there are two pillars of Dowdall’s proposed evidence, namely the handing over of the hotel key cards for the room on the night before the Regency attack and “an alleged conversation” with Hutch that took place in a park a number of days after the shooting. It was in this conversation that Dowdall says his former co-accused confessed his direct involvement in the murder to him, he said. A detective has confirmed under cross-examination “in terms of both pillars” that there was no evidence to corroborate this other than Dowdall’s word.
The court also listened to lengthy conversations between Hutch and Dowdall, recorded by gardaí from the National Surveillance Unit as the pair travelled north on March 7, 2016. Mr Gillane said “many topics were traversed”, including events at the Regency, the existence of the feud with the Kinahan Organised Crime Group, the personnel and “efforts to make peace or agree a ceasefire”.
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 on Monday.