Regency murder trial: Defence object to protection of identities of gardai due to give evidence
Prosecutors in the Regency Hotel murder trial have asked the Special Criminal Court to protect the identities of the gardai
Today at 17:38
Prosecutors in the Regency Hotel murder trial have asked the Special Criminal Court to protect the identities of gardai due to give evidence of covert surveillance carried out in the investigation.
The prosecution is seeking anonymity for members of the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) who are due to take the stand in the trial of Gerard “The Monk” Hutch and two other men charged over the gangland shooting.
Defence lawyers are objecting to the gardai being anonymised and the three judges of the non-jury court will rule on the application tomorrow.
David Byrne (33), a Kinahan gang member, was shot dead when three assault rifle-wielding masked gunmen, disguised as ERU gardai, stormed the hotel along with an armed man dressed as a woman in a blonde wig, and another in a flat cap.
The February 5, 2016 attack on a boxing weigh-in event happened as a bloody feud raged between the capital’s Kinahan and Hutch gangs.
Mr Hutch (59), of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin denies murdering Mr Byrne. Paul Murphy (59) of Cherry Avenue, Swords and Jason Bonney (50) of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock, deny facilitating the murder by providing the criminal organisation that carried it out with access to vehicles.
Today, Fiona Murphy SC, prosecuting, asked the court to allow members of the NSU to give their evidence anonymously. Mr Hutch’s barrister Brendan Grehan SC objected. His objections were adopted by John Fitzgerald SC, for Mr Bonney, and Bernard Condon SC, for Mr Murphy.
Detective Superintendent Eugene Lynch, head of the NSU, said the application was to anonymise 27 members of the unit, including six who had since retired. It was sought to exclude the public from court, and to allow the witnesses to only be referred to by initials and to hand their names in to the court in writing. The media would be prohibited from describing them.
This was to protect the integrity of present and future operations, he said. It was also to protect the safety and well-being of those involved, which could be jeopardised if they were identified.
In cross-examination, Det Supt Lynch told Mr Grehan he was including retired NSU members because even some families were not aware the officers were involved in “such high-risk operations.”
Mr Grehan said a lot of gardai were in high risk situations involving “guns drawn” and their identities were not protected in court.
He said Det Insp Lynch was himself not seeking anonymity. Det Insp Lynch replied that he was now in a mangement role and not involved in operations at ground level.
Mr Grehan said the prosecution was relying on the rules of the Special Criminal Court but there was no statutory basis for it and it was not permissible.
The rules were not specific and only stated in “in indirect terms” that anonymity could be granted, he argued.
“Nowhere does it make any reference to a power to anonymise witnesses,” he said, and such anonymity was not possible in the Central Criminal Court.
There was no “solid legal basis” for it as contended by the prosecution, he said, and it was a blanket ban without the necessary justification.
Mr Grehan said he was not looking for names and addresses of NSU members for his client’s benefit and “he has not instructed me to make any such enquiries.”
Ms Justice Tara Burns, presiding, asked Mr Grehan how he said his client’s right to a fair trial was interfered with.
“Because he should have a trial in public so far as possible,” Mr Grehan said.
“This is another layer of things that happen in his trial that would not happen if this was a trial in the ordinary courts,” he continued.
Mr Grehan could not point to a specific fair trial right being interfered with “other than the cloak of secrecy put over this particular part of the case by anonymity being granted, particularly where it’s implied or inferred that there’s some sort of ongoing threat to the persons involved,” he said.
“It reflects on him in the general perception of the trial taking place.”
Ms Murphy clarified that it was never the case that names and addresses of the witnesses would be given to the defence.
She argued that Mr Grehan had not been able to identify any prejudice to his client. She rejected that the order should not be made simply because this did not happen in other courts.
It was not an application made lightly and it was because the prosecution was of the view that there was a “real need of it,” she said. There was a concern for covert operations and the safety of those involved. Anonymity was used “sparingly and in very particular circumstances,” she added.
The trial continues before Judge Burns, Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Grainne Malone.