Former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall ‘duped’, lawyers tell Court of Appeal

Dowdall appealing severity of four-year sentence for facilitating murder of Kinahan cartel member David Byrne at Regency Hotel

Former Sinn Féin councillor and convicted torturer Jonathan Dowdall, who was jailed for facilitating the murder of Kinahan cartel member David Byrne, was “duped” and put in the “firing line” for the Regency Hotel attack, his lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.

Counsel for Dowdall also argued that he may not have faced any trial at all if he’d been allowed to bring an application to dismiss the charges against him, but was denied that chance by a legal “quirk” after being charged before the non-jury Special Criminal Court rather than the District Court.

Room 2104 in the Regency Hotel was booked in the name of Jonathan’s father Patrick Dowdall on February 4, 2016, one day before Mr Byrne’s murder. Jonathan Dowdall, the sentencing court heard, had driven his father to the hotel on the evening before the attack and a phone associated with him used a mast at the hotel.

During the 52-day trial of Gerard ‘The Monk’ Hutch, who was acquitted of the murder of Mr Byrne at the Regency Hotel and walked from court a free man, Dowdall said he and his father drove to the hotel and his father went inside, gave his name and paid for the room. Dowdall said he remained in his jeep in the car park of the hotel until his father came back and the arrangement was that they would drop the key cards for the room into the home of Patsy Hutch, Gerard Hutch’s older brother, on Champions Avenue in Dublin’s inner city.


“I rang Patsy to say we were on the way to the house with the key and we were told to leave them on Richmond Road. We went to Richmond Road...and Gerard came and my father gave Gerard the cards,” Dowdall claimed.

The State’s case at Gerard Hutch’s trial was that, after the Regency attack, Mr Hutch asked Dowdall to arrange a meeting with his provisional republican contacts to mediate or resolve the Hutch-Kinahan feud due to the threats against the accused’s family and friends.

Appealing the severity of his four-year sentence for facilitating the Regency attack, Michael O’Higgins SC, for Dowdall, told the three-judge court on Tuesday that while the State may say the hotel room at the Regency was part of the “launching pad” for the murder of Mr Byrne, he would submit it was the “launching pad for a contrived event plan of disinformation, which was put together in a way where my client was left front and centre”.

On September 28th, 2022, Dowdall (44) – a married father of four with an address at Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 7 – pleaded guilty at the Special Criminal Court to making a room available to the Hutch gang at the Regency Hotel, Swords Road, north Dublin, where Mr Byrne (34) was murdered in February 2016.

The appellant had been originally charged with the murder of Mr Byrne in April 2021 but the State dropped that charge after Dowdall admitted to the lesser charge of facilitating the Hutch gang by making a hotel room available for use by the perpetrators the night before the attack.

On October 17th, 2022, Dowdall was sentenced by the Special Criminal Court to four years’ imprisonment.

In December, Dowdall launched his appeal against his four-year jail term.

During the investigation, gardaí established the person using the room in the Regency Hotel was Kevin Murray, who had had known paramilitary connections with the IRA. Mr Murray was very visible over the course of the day on CCTV footage and walked around the hotel freely, while during the attack he was seen on CCTV footage with a handgun held aloft.

During Dowdall’s sentence hearing, Mr O’Higgins submitted that Murray was there to attract attention on the basis that investigating gardaí would be misdirected in a paramilitary direction.

Court of Appeal president Mr Justice George Birmingham said that when he first read the appellant’s submissions, his first reaction was that Dowdall had done “extraordinarily well”.

The judge pointed out that there were “elements of unreality” about some of the arguments advanced in the submissions. “This is a person who pleaded guilty to an offence and someone who came before the court having been convicted of a very serious offence in the past and had served a substantial sentence, could he have had any expectation of doing better than he did?” asked the judge.

Mr Justice Birmingham went on to remark that a major issue was that the decisions taken by the appellant were going to have an effect not only on himself but also his family and that the sentencing court had been very conscious of that by making “unusual discounts and additional discounts”.

Other grounds of appeal included that Dowdall wasn’t “a time waster or a tyre kicker”, was subjected to up to 10 days of cross-examination by counsel during the murder trial of Gerard Hutch and to his credit “went through that process”.

“A person who wants to cross that Rubicon should be aware that courts recognise the huge and significant life changes that flow from that,” he added.

Mr O’Higgins argued that the Special Criminal Court had weighed the consequences of how Dowdall’s life was going to change on becoming State’s witness “with a blindfold”, that the sentencing court didn’t hear the specifics and did not know what the future held for his client.

Counsel also noted that Dowdall should have been entitled to a 30 per cent discount for his guilty plea instead of a 25 per cent one and that a headline sentence of six years was appropriate rather than an eight-year one. “The headline sentence was too high, the discount for his plea [too low] and insufficient weight was given to his psychological and medical reports, with part reference to upending and the change to his life,” submitted Mr O’Higgins.

The lawyer also pointed out that “it shouldn’t be lost in sight that there had been a previous history of booking hotel rooms [by his client for the Hutches] for credit purposes”. He said most hotels won’t allow a hotel room to be booked without a credit card.

Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh told the lawyer that it sounded like he was saying that his client had booked a room for an entirely innocent purpose and pointed out that he had pleaded guilty to the facilitation offence. “It sounds like you are coming very close to the line,” she said.

Mr O’Higgins said he did not accept that because one cannot equivocate that they are put in a straight jacket. “The law has to be clearly identifiable and it also must be flexible, the reality of the situation was that he was looking at trial for murder, he had offered assistance and he could not offer the plea without admitting what he did,” he said.

He said there was a difference between a person buying burner phones - which he said was a “glowing red flag” - and booking a hotel room, which can lead straight back to the individual. “It makes them morally less culpable, Dowdall was morally weak in putting himself in that position but he has paid a very high price,” he said.

Dowdall sat in the jury box for the two-hour appeal hearing flanked by several prison officers.

Opening an appeal against sentence today, Mr O’Higgins said Dowdall comes from inner city Dublin, ran a very successful business as an electrician and had built up blue chip clients from multinationals and banks. “He was making a good living out of it, no more, no less,” he said.

Counsel said Dowdall was a good employer, had a house which was heavily mortgaged and that he paid for his children’s private education. “Jonathan Dowdall can be viewed through that prism, a person who was ambitious for his family and children, worked extremely hard to further those ends and was a person who was well respected in the community and gave out apprenticeships to people in his community,” he said.

He said Dowdall’s family lived next door to Gerard Hutch’s mother for a period of time and that there was a strong connection between his family and Mrs Hutch; “they socialised with some of the Hutch people”. Dowdall, he said, had connections with Gerard’s older brother Patsy and that the appellant’s contact with Gerard was “very limited”.

Mr O’Higgins stressed that Dowdall was not a member of the Hutch Organised Criminal Group. He said that certain members of the Hutch family did not have a credit card and that it was hard in this world to purchase certain things such as holidays without a credit card. “When holidays were booked, my client purchased the holiday on his credit card and it was refunded, it was not unusual for him to do that type of transaction,” he continued.

He said Dowdall’s electrical business did not always “neatly turn over payment for work” and when there were cash flow shortfalls he would obtain loans from Patsy Hutch, which were repaid in full. Dowdall employed Patrick Hutch Junior as an apprentice in his firm and occasionally employed Patsy Hutch to do electrical work. “That was the story of Jonathan Dowdall until he was selling a motorbike and a person, who had a history of fraudulent transactions, came to his house to purchase it. Jonathan was alerted to this and he lured the person to his house and the less said about that the better,” said counsel.

The lawyer said the behaviour engaged in by the Dowdalls was “abominable”, where the terrified man was put on the ground and had his head shaved. “Incredibly a pictorial record was kept of this on a USB key and after gardai searched Dowdall’s house the USB came to light and a prosecution ensued,” he said.

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 the 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.

Mr O’Higgins said Jonathan Dowdall came out of prison at the end of that sentence having been charged with the murder of Mr Byrne at the Regency Hotel. “It’s fair to say he was a broken man at the time,” he commented.

Counsel said his client had set about engaging with authorities about becoming a witness against Gerard Hutch as far back as when he was arrested for this offence and had asked about getting into the Witness Protection Programme during his detention. He said Dowdall met with gardai when he was released from prison for this offence and that process began very slowly; “not quick enough as far as Dowdall was concerned”.

Mr O’Higgins said it was very important to understand where this case fits and that Dowdall was always pleading not guilty to murdering Mr Byrne. He said his client took a jurisdictional point which was a perfectly legitimate thing to do, beyond reproach or criticism. “A really unusual quirk of the legal system has operated in this case and has had very huge ramification for Dowdall,” he said.

Counsel submitted that Dowdall was charged before the Special Criminal Court but, had he been returned for trial to the District Court, he could have brought an application to dismiss the charge against him. However, Mr O’Higgins said Dowdall had been “shut out” from making that.

“He was denied that by a pre legal quirk, it would now appear had he brought that section 4e application, given what we know in the case, he may not have faced trial at all. In so far as those conversations in the car implicate Gerard Hutch, they implicated Gerard Hutch far more than they did my client. The terrible circumstances my client found himself would all have been avoided if not for that legal quirk,” he said.

Section 4E of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1967 states that a court can dismiss the charges against an accused person before trial where there is insufficient evidence.

Mr Justice Birmingham remarked that if Dowdall was a “dupe” who stumbled into this event then it was very hard to see why he was driving to Northern Ireland with Gerard Hutch one month later discussing the offence. “One would expect one would be shocked and would sever their links and disassociate,” she said. Mr O’Higgins said there was a continued participation which was unexplained in any great detail and that evidence isn’t before the court so therefore inferences cannot be drawn.

Mr O’Higgins submitted that his client had facilitated the Hutches and had provided similar facilitation over time without there being any repercussions. He said the room at the Regency Hotel “was worn” by a particular individual known as ‘Flat Cap’, who was seen very prominently with a gun brandished outside the hotel and seen on CCTV footage going into that room. “He was seemingly going around asking people directions in the hotel and going around in a way, in complete antipathy of what a hired gunman would do. He died a short time afterwards and it was put to gardai [in the trial] that this was apparently part of the strategy and that because of his paramilitary connections it would direct garda attention to paramilitaries,” he said.

Mr O’Higgins said there were circumstances where the Court of Appeal had justification to hear new evidence and told the three-judge court that he wanted to call Dowdall’s wife to give evidence so she could explain the “difficulties” that they as a family had.

However, counsel for the DPP Sean Gillane SC said he could not consent to the application and that it was “patently unnecessary” as the sentencing court had accepted the “dire consequences” of Dowdall.

After rising for a few moments, Mr Justice Birmingham said the court was not prepared to admit additional evidence from Dowdall’s spouse.

Opposing the appeal, Mr Gillane said the central point in the State’s submissions was that the four-year sentence handed down to Dowdall could be regarded as generous in terms of the overall nature of the case.

The hotel room booked at the Regency Hotel, counsel said, was the “launch pad” for the murder of Mr Byrne; “that was the facilitation of a criminal organisation”.

The State’s barrister said the four-year sentence received by Dowdall was “indeed a generous” one and reflected the sentencing court giving as much measure as possible to the appellant, given the circumstances he had found himself in.

Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh, and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, reserved judgment in the sentence appeal.