The Irish Times view on the acquittal of Gerard Hutch: questions for the State

The outcome raises questions about the wisdom of relying on the evidence of criminals who turn State’s witness.

On any other day the conviction of two men for assisting in one of the most high-profile crimes in the State’s history would be a cause for celebration for gardaí and prosecutors.

However, the guilty verdicts for Paul Murphy and Jason Bonney for acting as getaway drivers in the notorious Regency Hotel shooting in 2016 were entirely overshadowed by the acquittal of Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, who was accused of murdering gangland rival David Byrne during the infamous attack.

Hutch’s acquittal was all the more remarkable given the venue; around 90 per cent of suspects who appear on trial at the non-jury Special Criminal Court are convicted. Equivalent figures for the jury courts hover around the 50 per cent mark.

Nevertheless, the verdict was not a surprise to those keeping a close watch on the trial. There was no smoking gun linking Hutch to the murder. Instead the prosecution relied on two strands of evidence relating to conversations which took place after the attack.


In her lengthy judgment read on behalf of the three-judge court, Ms Justice Tara Burns carefully unravelled both these strands. The first was the evidence of Hutch associate turned State’s witness Jonathan Dowdall. He told gardaí Hutch had not only admitted to being involved in the attack but that he was actually one of the men who shot Byrne.

The problem, the judge noted, was Dowdall was an admitted liar with a violent past. The former Sinn Féin councillor also had a motivation to lie about Hutch as he was facing a murder charge himself if he did not co-operate. Instead he was rewarded with a much lighter charge and, probably, admission into the State’s Witness Protection Programme. The court was not prepared to convict on the basis of his evidence alone.

The second strand of evidence was 10 hours of surreptitious recordings of Hutch and Dowdall created a month after the attack. These recordings picked up lots of talk about the shooting and its consequences, including efforts to dispose of the assault rifles used by the killers. But they do not contain any clear admission from Hutch that he was involved, said Ms Justice Burns.

The court found there was evidence Hutch had control of the weapons used in the attack. However, the judge pointed out that the State’s case was that he was present as a participant – not that he planned the attack. One question raised is whether the Director of Public Prosecutions should have pursued a lesser charge, instead of attempting to prove murder?

The acquittal is embarrassing for the Garda and the DPP. It also raises some urgent questions about the wisdom of relying on the evidence of criminals who turn State’s witness.