This Case will make, a Movie, in Time, the Monk, the Gardai, and Dowdall, the Liar.

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The Monk’s prayers answered as ‘master manipulator’ Jonathan Dowdall’s self-interest called outImage

 • 4h ago

Gerard Hutch had his hands clasped together, as if praying. Through his headphones, he was listening intently.

Ms Justice Tara Burns was reciting what he had said over seven years ago to Jonathan Dowdall, when the gardaí had secretly bugged the former Sinn Féin councillor’s car.

The judgment that the three judges had only finalised late the night before was being delivered. At this stage, it wasn’t clear what way it would go.

The Monk was facing a life sentence if found guilty of the murder of Kinahan cartel associate David Byrne in the Regency Hotel on February 5, 2016.

His two co-accused, Jason Bonney and Paul Murphy, had already been told they were guilty of helping to facilitate the murder of Byrne by making getaway cars available on the day.

Ms Justice Burns was clear, forceful, and precise in her delivery. She and her fellow judges, Grainne Malone and Sarah Berkeley, had spent several months poring over the evidence from the 52-day trial.

Just as Hutch’s defence counsel Brendan Grehan had put it in his closing statement, the State’s case relied primarily on just a few key points.

One of them was the infamous, secret audio tapes that Ms Justice Burns read extracts from again on Monday. Mr Grehan had said he would challenge anyone to listen to those tapes and find an admission from Hutch that he’d carried out the attack.

The other central plank was Dowdall himself, the disgraced former Sinn Féin politician who had previously been convicted over a brutal attack on a man in his home and who had been facing a murder charge before pleading guilty to lesser charges in relation to Byrne.

Mr Grehan called Dowdall a “proven liar” and “master manipulator”, who had turned the State’s evidence against the Monk to get off his own murder charge.

In her judgement, Ms Justice Burns said: “It cannot be said that [Dowdall] found God and decided to do what was right.” 

She said he  “acted out of his own self-interest”.

In that sense, Hutch’s prayers were being answered. As Ms Justice Burns went on, it became clear the wind was blowing a certain way. Hutch would soon be walking out of court a free man.

The Regency murder

The Monk was facing a life sentence if found guilty of the murder of Kinahan cartel associate David Byrne, pictured, in the Regency Hotel on February 5, 2016.© Provided by Irish Examiner

The Monk was facing a life sentence if found guilty of the murder of Kinahan cartel associate David Byrne, pictured, in the Regency Hotel on February 5, 2016.

Plenty of adjectives were used during the course of this trial to describe the murder in the Regency Hotel on February 5, 2016.

A “deliberate killing” carried out “without restraint”. Having elements of the “militaristic and the macabre”. “Brutal and callous”. Ms Justice Burns added descriptions of her own in court, calling it a “meticulously planned” assassination that had sparked “mayhem on the streets of Dublin”.

Back in October, on day two of the Monk’s trial, no one was left in any doubt as to the veracity of these descriptions as CCTV footage showing the murder was played in court.

Daniel Kinahan was the target. His MGM promotions boxing outfit was having a big event, billed as Clash of the Clans. The Regency in north Dublin was the venue for the weigh-in. As it was in progress, two men enter, one in a flat cap and one dressed as a woman. 

After they start shooting and chaos ensues, three more men enter, this time through the front door. They’re dressed as gardaí and are carrying AK-47-style rifles. Two of these men shoot David Byrne at close range. He suffered catastrophic injuries and died immediately, slumped against the reception desk in the Regency foyer.

But they missed Kinahan. As Ms Justice Burns referred to in her judgment, one man turned left to escape through a car park while Flat Cap and the man dressed as a woman turned the other way while in pursuit, back into the Regency. “Luck was with him,” she said.

Turning back to the men dressed as gardaí, it was the State’s case that Gerard Hutch was one of these shooters, that he had pulled one of those triggers that killed Byrne.

But what was this built on?

When Hutch was extradited and charged with the murder of Byrne in September 2021, Jonathan Dowdall wasn’t — at that time — going to be giving evidence against him. The former Sinn Féin councillor may well have ended up in the dock next to the Monk, as he was also charged with Byrne’s murder.

Towards the end of her judgment, Ms Justice Burns pondered: “One wonders what the prosecution case was intended to be before the introduction of Jonathan Dowdall.” 

What was the evidence against Hutch?

The scene at the Regency Hotel in Dublin following the fatal shooting of David Byrne in February 2016. File Picture: Gareth Chaney© Provided by Irish Examiner

The scene at the Regency Hotel in Dublin following the fatal shooting of David Byrne in February 2016. File Picture: Gareth Chaney

There was solid, irrefutable evidence of journeys taken by Dowdall and Hutch up North following the Regency shooting. A host of Garda surveillance officers were following their movements; a tracker had been placed on Dowdall’s car along with an audio recording device.

But what was actually said on the tapes of those long, rambling conversations on their day trip to the North on March 7, 2016? And what contained therein did the State say incriminated The Monk?

In her closing statement, Fiona Murphy, for the prosecution, said references in the audio to the “three yokes” were a tacit admission by Hutch of his involvement in Byrne’s killing.

“There is no reaction from Mr Hutch [in the audio] to deny what is being alleged and it points to an acknowledgment that he was part of the team at the Regency and it doesn’t demure from the fact that it would be a lie to say he never did the Regency,” Ms Murphy had told the court.

But there are plenty of things said on those tapes — they were in the car for most of the day.

Ms Justice Burns said the court was satisfied that Hutch was in possession of the AK-47s by March 7, at least. But, she said, this does not mean he was in control of the guns at the Regency.

“The audio does not contain any direct admission from Gerard Hutch he was at the Regency,” she said. “He said the six people do not know who was involved. No one knows.” 

The defence had sought not to have the audio included in evidence. Despite losing this battle, it turned out it was not as severe a loss as it may have appeared.

What Dowdall gave them

It is clear that the introduction of Dowdall at such a late stage would radically transform the State’s case against Hutch.

Over a week of intense cross-examination, he maintained that he had met Hutch in a park after the Regency shooting and that the Monk had admitted being one of Byrne’s killers. 

Dowdall also alleged he and his father passed on a Regency Hotel room key to Hutch the night before the murder. That room was later used by the man known as Flat Cap.

On the alleged park meeting, Ms Justice Burns was roundly dismissive. She cited an exchange between Mr Grehan and Dowdall, where it was put to him that phone evidence suggested he wasn’t in the park in Whitehall the day he alleged he had met Hutch there, which was the same day Hutch’s brother Eddie was killed as the Hutch-Kinahan feud raged. 

Neither was he there the previous morning. Phone evidence did suggest he could’ve been there on the afternoon the day before, but this wasn’t definitive.

“The court cannot but assume that one’s reaction to Gerard Hutch’s alleged admission and murder of his brother hours later would’ve been a standout moment in one’s life,” said Ms Justice Burns. “Jonathan Dowdall got the time and date wrong.” 

The judge said Dowdall had told “convincing lies” to gardaí when he was first arrested, and that this was another facet that brought a significant question mark over his character and reliability.

She said that in light of the serious difficulties in Dowdall’s account, the court could not act on his statement alone. With Dowdall’s evidence blown out of the water, the State’s case was in deep trouble.

What else was there?

In terms of the judge’s deliberations in this case, the answer was not a whole lot more.

Dowdall’s evidence couldn’t be relied upon and Hutch made no admissions to his involvement on the tapes, according to the judges.

Ms Justice Burns was clear that what was said on the tapes leads the court to the “inevitable conclusion” that members of the Hutch family organised and meticulously planned the Regency attack acting as an organised crime group.

“[But] Gerard Hutch is here to meet the case that he was actually at the Regency and actually shot David Byrne,” she said.

The State had not proven this beyond reasonable doubt.

Therefore, the Monk would walk free. 

A veritable media frenzy ensued as he exited the court a free man before hopping into a taxi with his solicitor. He didn’t show much emotion, either in court or out on the street.

The family of David Byrne, meanwhile, left court with little comment and senior gardaí said nothing as they filed out of the Criminal Courts of Justice.

And, in a jail cell serving his sentence for helping to facilitate the murder of Byrne, Dowdall has, in the words of Ms Justice Burns, “a chance at a life instead of a possible conviction for murder”.

“The court is in no doubt if someone was to make a life for themselves in the precarious situation he finds himself in, it is Jonathan Dowdall,” she said.

He gained a “significant benefit” by turning State’s witness, but his evidence didn’t lead to a conviction.

And so still, seven years on from the Regency, no one has been convicted of the murder of David Byrne, a murder that helped to fuel a grisly feud that has claimed 18 lives so far.

As the Monk sped off in a taxi, it left the feeling that questions about how and why this case developed as it did may persist for some time.

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