Special Criminal Court to deliver verdict in Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch trial in April
Story by Alison O’Riordan and Eoin Reynolds • Yesterday 16:48
AFTER HEARING EVIDENCE, for 52 days, the Special Criminal Court will deliver a judgement in April in the trial of Gerard ‘The Monk’ Hutch, who is charged with the murder of Kinahan Cartel member David Byrne at the Regency Hotel, and his two co-accused who deny participating in the murder.
Presiding judge Ms Justice Tara Burns, sitting with Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Grainne Malone, said the court would notify parties if the judgment for the three accused is available before 17 April next.
Earlier on the final day of the trial, the defence barrister for a builder, who denies participating in the murder of Byrne, gave his closing speech to the non-jury court submitting that there are a number of holes in the prosecution’s case.
Senior counsel John Fitzgerald, for Jason Bonney, noted that the case put forward by the DPP to associate his client with a BMW X5 jeep “at all times” and specifically at St Vincent’s GAA grounds on 5 February 2016 was a “light or thin case”.
Bonney’s jeep is alleged to have been used by him to transport a man in a flat cap, who minutes earlier had raided the Regency Hotel, away from St Vincent’s GAA grounds on the day of the shooting.
The State’s case is that the late dissident republican Kevin Murray was the man seen wearing a flat cap when Byrne was killed and that he cooperated with the “tactical team” that raided the Regency Hotel. Murray died from motor neurone disease in 2017 before he could be brought to trial.
Gerard ‘The Monk’ Hutch (59), last of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin 3, denies the murder of Byrne (33) during a boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel on 5 February, 2016.
Hutch’s two co-accused – Paul Murphy (61), of Cherry Avenue, Swords, Co Dublin and Jason Bonney (52), of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock, Dublin 13 have pleaded not guilty to participating in or contributing to the murder of Byrne by providing access to motor vehicles on 5 February 2016.
Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, said in his opening address that “an integral part of the operation” which led to Byrne’s death was the means by which the tactical team escaped, which was central to the case of Bonney and Murphy.
A BMW X5 jeep which the prosecution say was driven by Bonney on the day and Murphy’s light coloured Toyota Avensis taxi are alleged to have been part of a convoy that parked up at St Vincent’s GAA club grounds before the shooting and then transported the assailants from the Regency Hotel shooting after a Ford transit van was abandoned.
It is Jason Bonney’s defence that on 5 February, he never drove his jeep, which the prosecution say was used in the attack, south of Newbrook Avenue, Donaghmede, [north of the Regency Hotel] but his father William Bonnie did.
Closing the defence case for Bonney today, John Fitzgerald SC said he would be suggesting to the court that there are a number of holes in the prosecution’s case.
Counsel said there was no obligation on his client to put anything into the case but he had by way of interview and the answers he gave gardaí. He said on 21 February 2016, Bonney put into the case that he was in the vicinity of Newbrook Avenue at the time of the Regency shooting.
The second aspect of the case, he said, was that there was a transfer of the jeep on the day and that the vehicle was driven south of the location by his father William Bonney where the accused always maintained it was.
However, he said Jason Bonney had not made that case when he was “doorstepped” by garda and had an uncautioned conversation with them on 21 February followed up by two interviews on 27 May 2016.
Evidence has been given that now retired Detective Garda Alan Crummey said he went to Bonney’s house on 21 February 2016, the day after the BMW X5 was seized but the accused declined to make a statement.
On the day, Bonney said he was working between an extension on his own house in Portmarnock and a home renovation at Newbrook Avenue, Donaghmede. He said he was going back and forth between the two sites and was using his BMW X5.
Counsel acknowledged that there was always a danger of putting something into a case that can detract from the focus of a criminal trial but submitted the DPP’s case put forward to associate Bonney with the jeep at all times on February and specifically at St Vincent’s GAA grounds was a “light or thin case”.
Why he said that, the lawyer stated, was because towards the end of the case when the strands were being pulled together by Garda Michele Purcell and intelligence analyst Sarah Skedd he had asked them to confirm what the State’s case showed and Skedd was the first to concede the limits of her analysis.
“There was nothing to show that Mr Bonney himself through his phone or being seen on CCTV had travelled south of where he claimed to have been all along,” he submitted.
Furthermore, Fitzgerald said the accused’s phone didn’t go south of Donaghmede Shopping Centre. In case there was a sinister suggestion that Bonney’s phone was turned off, he said Skedd was clear to say that his phone was not turned off at that time and all that happened was he did not make a call or send a text.
Fitzgerald said there was no issue in the case about his client’s phone. However, he said the use of the jeep, registered to his father’s dormant company and address, was a much more complicated matter.
Detective Garda Ronan McMurrow has testified it was not in dispute that the accused’s BMW X5 jeep was registered to ‘Bonney Construction’, a company Bonney told gardaí in interview his now deceased father had owned and was now dormant. The accused said he had been driving the jeep since his father stopped working.
Counsel drew the judges attention to the State’s case that the driver of the jeep did not change throughout the day and that the person seen getting into the vehicle outside Drumnigh Woods was the same person, “unchanging throughout the various stops”. “Absent of any identification of Jason Bonney south of Newbrook Avenue,” he added.
Going through the evidence in relation to the jeep, Fitzgerald said the State had adopted “a slightly mixed bag approach” and stated that because his client was in the car between 11.38am and 1.18pm that the only reasonable inference to draw was that he was in the car for the entire day.
“It that really the only reasonable inference to draw? Because an individual identifying himself in a car on two brief occasions that is enough to cover a six hour period. I say its not”. He said the court had to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver of the jeep did not change that day.
The barrister submitted it was telling that the State relied on the only reasonable inference in the case rather than independent evidence. “The basis for the only reasonable inference is alarmingly light,” he said.
Counsel said the jeep did not take a “simple path” during the afternoon of 5 February and went “off radar” completely at points, deviations which he said were unexplained by the State, were inconsistent and departed from the path of a person on “a one-man mission”.
He said these deviations and absences “are more consistent with the case made by Jason Bonney” that there was a changeover of drivers at Newbrook Avenue.
“Anyone with a scintilla of sense and even the dogs in the street know that CCTV footage and phones are ubiquitous and can be traced. If on an operation of this kind why deviate, it is unexplained by the Director and more consistent with the case put forward by Jason Bonney,” he argued.
He referred to the evidence given by Bonney’s first defence witness Julie McGlynn, who said she saw the BMW X5 jeep being driven away by Willie Bonnie about 11.30am on 5 February and that she saw the accused working at his house renovation miles to the north around 15 minutes after the Regency attack.
A second defence witness Peter Tyrell, who counsel said had “his differences” with the Bonneys in the past, also gave evidence that he was driving from Coolock to his home in Artane on the afternoon of 5 February when a black jeep came up behind.
“I seen the jeep coming very close to me and I looked in the mirror and I said Jesus, that’s Willie Bonney driving that jeep,” Tyrell said. “He came up close to me and I said bloody hell, I wonder what’s going on?”. He drove into his front driveway and the jeep drove on.
The barrister also pointed to the evidence of Garda Keith Cassidy who said the BMW X5 was “spotless and there was a fresh smell coming from inside” when he seized the jeep two weeks after the shooting. Counsel asked what possible relevance this could have; was it to be cleaned to be stripped of the evidence of Kevin Murray and if so why wait two weeks to clean it.
Fitzgerald suggested to the court that his client was left in an invidious position of having to put the life and liberty of a close family member in danger or stick by the original account he gave. “There are ample grounds on which this court can consider that the State has not discharged its weighty responsibility in the case,” he concluded.
Previously, Paul Byrne, who was called as a rebuttal witness by the State, said that he and his wife – Jason Bonney’s sister – called to her parents house for lunch at Donaghmede Drive on 5 February 2016 and stayed until after 4pm.
Byrne said Willie Bonney did not leave the house at any point and that they heard about the Regency attack on the television or the radio during the afternoon.
It is the prosecution’s case that the silver Ford transit van containing six people left the Regency Hotel after the shooting and drove towards Charlemont Estate, where the vehicle was abandoned and burnt out.
The State say the six included a man wearing a wig and dressed as a woman, Kevin Murray who was wearing a flat cap, a driver and three persons dressed in tactical garda clothing. The raiders then made good their escape by using a number of parked vehicles at St Vincent’s GAA club.
In his closing speech, Bernard Condon SC for Paul Murphy said the prosecution had failed to prove its case against Murphy to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. He said the prosecution had offered a “broad brush stroke of propositions and assertions” that were not supported by the evidence.
Condon said the court was being invited to convict based on “guilt by association” and “guilt by suspicion” rather than proof beyond reasonable doubt. He added: “The blanks in the prosecution case cannot be filled in by supposition or suspicion”.
Condon also said that to prove the case of facilitating a criminal organisation, the prosecution has to prove the existence of the criminal organisation and that Mr Murphy had knowledge of it.
“What exactly is the Hutch organised crime gang?” counsel asked. He said there was “very limited evidence on that” other than that it was an “intergenerational gang”.
He said there was no specific evidence that Hutch’s brothers Patsy or Neddie were members of the Hutch organisation on the day of the Regency murder and no evidence that Patsy Hutch was involved in crime prior to the Regency. Paul Murphy, counsel said, knew Patsy Hutch through his legitimate taxi business.
Condon questioned the quality of CCTV evidence which the prosecution alleges shows his client’s taxi in convoy with other cars allegedly used to transport people to and from the Regency attack.
Condon said that his client’s silver Toyota Avensis cannot be identified on the CCTV and he pointed out that a taxi driver who gave evidence during the trial said that silver Toyotas are one of the most common cars used as taxis in Dublin.
He said one of the identifying features of the car that the prosecution sought to rely on was that the tax and insurance discs were in the bottom left corner of the windscreen. Mr Condon described that as “practically meaningless” as “99.99% of cars have tax and insurance on the bottom left hand side”.
He said the CCTV was not high definition and no number plates or other identifying features could be made out. He questioned whether stickers, tyres and other features pointed to by the prosecution were actually visible or useful as identifiers in much of the footage.
The prosecution also alleged that taxi receipts found in Murphy’s car for the day of the shooting were manufactured to provide him with “some kind of alibi”. Condon said there was no evidence that the taxi metre had been correctly calibrated and it could have been out by a day or more.
Condon asked the court to ignore a suggestion by his client to gardai that his taxi could have been “cloned”. Counsel said that there has been evidence that cloning is an issue for taxi drivers but in the end Murphy does not rely on that for his defence.
The prosecution also alleged that a key card found in Murphy’s car could be used to access Buckingham Village, a residential complex that they said was the “centre” of the operation.
Condon said there was no detail given about where exactly the “centre” was. “Is it in a flat? If so, what flat? Is it more than one flat?”. He asked if the centre was a car park, a car, a van, who was at the centre and could a person see and hear what others at the alleged centre were doing.
He said that the prosecution offered Buckingham Village as “the centre of everything and if Mr Murphy’s car is there, you can put two and two together and get 600. I say, you can’t.”
He said there was no evidence of when or how the key card got into Murphy’s car. He also said that if Murphy lied about the key card, it could have been out of fear of what might happen if he was linked to the Hutch gang.
When Murphy told gardaí that he didn’t know where the key card came from, Condon said Neddie Hutch had already been murdered. Murphy also told gardaí that he didn’t want to be seen with members of the Hutch family in what Condon said may have been “an acknowledgement that close involvement with the Hutches is a death sentence.”
Counsel said it would be a reasonable inference for the court to draw that if Murphy lied, he did so due to the “fear in this city for people associated with the Hutch family”.
Condon questioned how a lie about the key card could move the court to say that the only inference to be drawn was that Murphy was “on the Regency job”.
Condon concluded: “A broad brush stroke of propositions and assertions have been made, but a deep dive into the evidence does not support it. Inferences are asked for that cannot be drawn and the proper verdict for Paul Murphy is, not guilty.”
Jonathan Dowdall, a former co-accused of Hutch who facilitated Byrne’s murder and turned State’s evidence, has said that Hutch told him in a park several days after the Regency attack, in or around Monday 8 February 2016, that he and another man had shot Byrne at the hotel.
Brendan Grehan SC, representing Hutch, said there were “two big lies” at the heart of Dowdall’s evidence – that Gerard Hutch had collected a key card for a room in the Regency that had been booked for the night of the attack and that Hutch had confessed to Dowdall that he was one of the “attack men” dressed as gardaí who entered the Regency and shot David Byrne.
The State’s case is that Hutch had 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.
The Special Criminal Court has viewed CCTV footage of what the State says is Hutch making two separate journeys to Northern Ireland with Dowdall on 20 February and 7 March 2016, just weeks after Byrne was murdered.
The prosecution has played a ten hour audio recording of a conversation between Hutch and Dowdall while they were allegedly travelling north to a meeting in Strabane in Co Tyrone on 7 March 2016 in Dowdall’s Toyota Land Cruiser jeep, that had been bugged by garda detectives.
Dowdall (44) – a married father of four with an address at Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 7 – was due to stand trial for Byrne’s murder alongside Hutch but pleaded guilty in advance of the trial to a lesser charge of facilitating the Hutch gang by making a hotel room available for use by the perpetrators the night before the attack.
Dowdall – who previously served as an elected Sinn Féin councillor in the north inner city ward in May 2014 and resigned less than one year later – was jailed by the Special Criminal Court for four years for the facilitation offence.
Following Dowdall’s sentence last October, a nolle prosequi – a decision not to proceed – was entered on the murder charge against the former Dublin city councillor.
Dowdall’s father Patrick Dowdall (65) was jailed for two years before the Regency trial started after he also admitted his part in booking the hotel room for the raiders.
Both Jonathan and Patrick Dowdall have pleaded guilty to participating in or contributing to activity intending to or being reckless as to whether such participation or contribution could facilitate the commission of a serious offence by a criminal organisation or any of its members, to wit the murder of David Byrne, by making a room available at the Regency Hotel, Drumcondra, Dublin 9 for that criminal organisation or its members, within the State on 4 February 2016.
Byrne, from Crumlin, was shot dead at the hotel in Whitehall, Dublin 9 after five men, three disguised as armed gardaí in tactical clothing and carrying AK-47 assault rifles, stormed the building during the attack, which was hosting a boxing weigh-in at the time.
The victim was shot by two of the tactical assailants and further rounds were delivered to his head and body.
Byrne died after suffering catastrophic injuries from six gunshots fired from a high-velocity weapon to the head, face, stomach, hand and legs.