Gardaí find records of covert tracking device planted on vehicle ‘The Monk’ was allegedly driven in – after telling court they were destroyed
22nd November 2022
Gardaí have found the records from a covert tracking device that was planted on a vehicle that murder accused Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch was allegedly driven to Northern Ireland in.
The data was thought to have been destroyed but detectives from the Garda Cyber Crime Bureau were able to recover a “workable copy” from a computer over the weekend, the Special Criminal Court heard.
The tracker was placed on ex-Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall’s Toyota Land Cruiser when he allegedly brought Mr Hutch to a meeting with republicans in the aftermath of the Regency Hotel shooting.
Mr Hutch is on trial charged with murdering David Byrne who was shot dead in the gangland attack at the Regency in Dublin on February 5, 2016.
Jason Bonney and Paul Murphy are accused of helping the criminal organisation responsible by providing cars used to drive the assailants away after the shooting.
Mr Byrne (33), a Kinahan gang member, was killed when three assault rifle-wielding masked raiders, disguised as ERU gardaí, stormed the hotel along with a gunman dressed as a woman in a blonde wig, and another armed man in a flat cap.
The attack on a boxing weigh-in event happened as a bloody feud raged between the Kinahan and Hutch crime gangs.
Mr Hutch (59), of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin, Mr Murphy (61) of Cherry Avenue, Swords and Mr Bonney (51) of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock, deny the charges against them.
Dowdall had also been accused of murder, but before the trial started, he instead admitted facilitating Byrne’s killing by booking a hotel room for the perpetrators.
The court has heard that when Dowdall and Mr Hutch allegedly went north on March 7, 2016, covert tracking and audio devices had been deployed on the jeep by the Garda National Surveillance Unit.
The prosecution is seeking to use in evidence a 10-hour recording of conversations from that journey.
The admissibility of the evidence is being challenged by Mr Hutch’s defence, maintaining that for eight hours of the recording, the jeep was outside the jurisdiction, where any surveillance by gardaí is unlawful.
Then head of the NSU, Ciaran Hoey, gave evidence last week that he ordered the destruction of the records of the tracker device in February this year.
Defence barrister Brendan Grehan SC said the data could have indicated the jeep’s location during the journey.
Today, prosecutor Sean Gillane SC said a “considerable amount” of technical work had been done in the background since the last day of the trial.
This arose from evidence heard last week of the destroyed data and the significance the defence said this had for the case.
An operation involving the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau was initiated to establish if something could be done about what had arisen.
Over the weekend, a securely stored desktop which itself was listed for destruction was examined and it appeared that a working copy of the material in question was located on it yesterday evening. It was secured and made available for examination.
Mr Gillane said he had been able to examine a lot of that material and he sought more time from the court.
Mr Grehan said “if it appears that what was lost is now found” he would also need time “to see where we go” from here.
When the trial resumed this afternoon, Detective Superintendent Eugene Lynch said that last Wednesday, November 16, the Assistant Commissioner of the Garda National Crime and Security Intelligence Service instructed the Cyber Crime Bureau to assess whether the tracking data could be recovered.
On Thursday, an assessment was initiated, seven obsolete computers that were due to be destroyed were examined and the data was discovered on the third computer, he said. A working copy of the data was retrieved.
Records of the tracker were read out for two dates that Dowdall travelled north with Mr Hutch, covering the times the vehicle crossed the Northern Ireland border.
On February 20, 2016, the date they were seen at the home of IRA member Shane Rowan in Donegal, the court heard the vehicle crossed into Northern Ireland on the M1 in and around the Carrickdale Hotel in Co Louth at 8.43am.
It crossed back into the republic from Clady, Co Tyrone, at 10.51am, then crossed back into the North again at the same location at 5.20pm. It re-entered the Republic at the Carrickdale Hotel at 7.25pm.
On March 7, 2016, the date of the audio recording, the vehicle entered the North at the Carrickdale at 3.12pm, crossing back into the republic at 10.50pm at Aughnacloy on the Tyrone/Monaghan border.
Det Supt Lynch said the data had been stored on a server with all original data and this was destroyed along with the hard copies that had been in a fireproof safe.
Cross-examined by Mr Grehan, he said he believed copies of the authorisation documents were kept on file for disclosure purposes.
Mr Grehan said if copies were kept, this rendered meaningless the whole idea of destroying documents.
Det Supt Lynch said it was done in accordance with the Surveillance Act.
He said he himself would not destroy records unless he was fully satisfied that they were not required, he would consult the investigation team and if there was a trial he would not destroy them. He agreed with Mr Grehan that the records should not have been destroyed.
Mr Grehan said the discovery of the copies over the weekend would seem “a bit convenient to a suspicious mind”.
Det Supt Lynch confirmed the records would show where the vehicle was in Northern Ireland on the two dates. The information would have been available live to the gardaí at the time but it was not monitored once the vehicle crossed the border because it was outside their jurisdiction, he said.
“The tracker is an aid to surveillance and my members were not conducting surveillance in the North,” he said.
He agreed with Mr Grehan there was “nothing stopping” gardaí continuing to monitor the vehicle after it went into the North, but said they did not do so.
Mr Grehan asked him how he knew that.
“Because my members wouldn’t,” he replied.
He agreed those monitoring could “stop looking” when a vehicle crossed the border or “the screen could be turned off either”.
He said the PSNI had conducted surveillance at the behest of the gardaí. The PSNI were notified when the vehicle crossed into the North but Det Supt Lynch had no record of any “feedback”.
Mr Gillane then said having looked at data from both dates, nothing he saw caused any concern in relation to evidence that surveillance had given about sightings of the vehicle.
Mr Grehan said he wanted to be clear when gardaí had access to the tracking information and he was not happy with the answers he had got.
He asked Det Insp Lynch if the vehicle had been in Northern Ireland for all the time between 3.12pm and 10.50pm on March 7.
“I believe so, yes,” he replied.
Assistant Commissioner of Garda Crime and Security, Orla McPartland gave evidence about authorisation for the destruction of the jeep’s tracker records.
Then Det Supt Hoey had ordered the destruction and he previously told the court Asst Commr McPartland signed off on this.
She said in evidence she went to Det Supt Hoey’s office on March 23 this year and he showed her a spreadsheet of the totality of items for destruction from 2016. They examined them and Det Supt Hoey told her there was nothing that was required to be retained.
He had nothing to bring to her attention when she asked him and she signed the spreadsheet authorising the destruction. Asst Commr McPartland said she had no awareness of the vehicle in question or its data.
Mr Grehan said he took it if she had had the “slightest inkling that this had anything to do with this trial or the Regency” she would not have signed the destruction order.
“Absolutely not,” she said, adding that she would have directed its retention.
The process took an hour and there were 87 files marked for destruction. She did not look at the supporting file for the jeep and relied on Det Supt Hoey’s knowledge and expertise, she said.
Mr Grehan said it did not speak very well of the process that the records were destroyed or that having been ordered destroyed they could be found by another means.
Asst Commr McPartland said the computer hard drive on which the records were found had been due to be destroyed in the coming weeks.
Mr Grehan said the Act envisaged a review every three years but these were six years old. Asst Commr McPartland said Det Supt Hoey had been doing some “housekeeping” at the time to make sure everything was in order.
The prosecution is expected to begin playing the recording from the audio device tomorrow. Mr Grehan said he was concerned that reporting should be as accurate as possible and the media would be at a “very significant disadvantage” without a transcript.
“I would be very scared to report it’s Jonathan Dowdall saying X or Gerard Hutch saying X without having access to the transcript,” he said. “We have a legitimate interest in it being accurately reported.”
Ms Justice Tara Burns suggested the transcript could be shown on a screen and Mr Gillane said: “I’ll see what can be done.”
The trial continues before Ms Justice Burns, Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Grainne Malone.