Inside cost of protecting witnesses as cops fork out over half their €8M budget – with Dowdalls set to see bill soar
- Published: 7:00, 1 May 2023
THE Gardai have spent over €4 million to protect state witnesses and their families since 2016, The Irish Sun can reveal.
The Justice Department hands the force €1.2m each year to fund the Witness Security Programme, currently harbouring 20 to 30 people.
Since 2016, €4,273,000 has been spent of a total of €8.4 million.
It’s believed family members make up the bulk of the few dozen people in the Irish Witness Security Programme, which has housed the likes of Gilligan gang supergrass Charles Bowden.
The scheme was thrust back into the spotlight after former Sinn Fein councillor Jonathan Dowdall turned State’s evidence against Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch last year.
It is expected that the cost of relocating Dubliner Dowdall and his family will come out of this year’s allocation.
Along with his father Patrick — who was released from prison in recent days — he was only recently accepted into the programme.
His sign-off followed a six-month assessment period and there are difficulties finding a country to take them, such was the level of threat they posed.
In 2022, running the Witness Security Programme cost €600,000, while the previous year it was €400,000 and in 2020 it cost €300,000.
In 2019, just €200,000 was spent — up from €653,000 in 2018 and €800,000 in 2017.
The most spent since 2006 was €1.32 million in 2016.
Last October Dowdall was jailed for four years for facilitating the murder of Kinahan cartel thug David Byrne at Dublin’s Regency Hotel in February, 2016.
A murder charge had been dropped before he told the Special Criminal Court that Hutch admitted to him that he murdered Byrne.
But the three judges of the Special Criminal Court rejected Dowdall’s version of events and The Monk walked free after being found not guilty.
PROGRAMME ‘FUNCTIONS WELL’
Justice Minister Helen McEntee previously said she was in favour of putting the WSP on some kind of statutory footing.
But her interim replacement Simon Harris last week said he feels the programme “functions well” — but would be happy for discussions to take place within Government.
And the Fine Gael TD added that access to the protection can’t be linked to a successful conviction.
If Irish legislation is introduced it is likely to draw on international law, which varies by country.
‘STATE BETRAYED ME’
The Italian witness protection system — home to more than 6,000 people — was thrown into disarray in 2019 when former drug smuggler and police informant Gianfranco Franciosi accused the authorities of abandoning him.
Left living in a caravan, he said: “I betrayed the narcos but I realised the Italian state betrayed me.”
Budget constraints meant that anti-Mafia witnesses such as Franciosi were left without safety and support from the state.
This didn’t prevent mob boss Raffaele Imperiale, a close pal of cartel kingpin Daniel Kinahan and Italy’s second-most-wanted man, from turning informer last year.
HOPES FOR INFO ON KINAHAN
The drug trafficker began a crown witness procedure in a major criminal case, making statements against two co-accused and promising the authorities he was ready to turn his back on crime.
Gardai were hoping the drug lord — who was extradited from the UAE in 2021 following a personal intervention from the country’s justice minister — would cough up info on his Irish associate, who is also based in the UAE.
Imperiale, who attended the Kinahan cartel chief’s lavish Dubai wedding in 2017, would have to own up to all his crimes to avail of the WSP.
Barrister Gregory Murphy told The Irish Sun that might not be the best idea for any new legislation here.
FIRST MEMBERS OF IRELAND’S PROGRAMME
He said: “The Italian model clearly works for them, but you don’t want a situation where criminals can receive an amnesty for all their wrongdoing just to enter the programme on the basis of them giving evidence.
“We will have to see how it is legislated in other jurisdictions.
“But it is encouraging to see Helen McEntee say she’s in favour of some kind of legislation in relation to the programme.”
In Ireland, the first people to enter the programme were Russell Warren, John Dunne and Charles Bowden, who were members of John Gilligan’s drugs gang in the 1990s.
But the word of a State witness has counted for little in the 25 years it has been in existence.
Gilligan was convicted of drugs offences, but he was found not guilty of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, as was Alan Wilson despite Fergus O’Hanlon’s evidence in the murder of Marioara Rostas.
And now Hutch walking was in large part due to the unreliable testimony of Dowdall.
Mr Murphy said: “It’s important to note that the nature of state evidence is not to make sure a conviction is secured but it is simply to allow certain evidence to be heard and then it’s up to the courts or a jury to analyse that evidence and make a decision on its credibility.
NO PRIMARY EU LEGISLATION
“It’s pleasing to say that our judicial system still makes determinations on this regardless of the circumstances of someone testifying and entering the WSP and can still turn around and say, well, we don’t believe that and can make our own mind up.”
In the EU there is no primary legislation on witness protection. However, since 2000 Europol has run a coordinated European Liaison Network comprising specialists from the separate witness protection units.
Some EU states leave responsibility to police forces, as here, while with others it’s the responsibility of government and there are still huge administrative and judicial differences between the member states.
However, when a witness is going to relocate to another country, as in the case of Dowdall, international cooperation requires the sharing of relevant information.
Criminology lecturer Aaron Harte-Hughes said the lack of legislation in Ireland makes our system unique but added: “No policy should ever be deemed so secretive in an open and democratic society as to avoid some measure of scrutiny.”