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Ex-Sinn Fein councillor jailed for 12 years over torture terror

Jonathan Dowdall
Jonathan Dowdall

Former Sinn Fein councillor Jonathan Dowdall, who waterboarded a man who he believed was trying to defraud him while claiming he was in the IRA, has been jailed for 12 years by the Special Criminal Court.

His father, Patrick Dowdall, who threatened to chop off the man's fingers with pliers as he was tortured, has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

Jonathan Dowdall (40), with an address at Navan Road, Dublin 7 and his father Patrick Dowdall (60), of the same address, had both admitted to falsely imprisoning Alexander Hurley by detaining him without his consent at Navan Road, Dublin 7 on January 15, 2015.

Both men had also pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Mr Hurley at the same place on the same date.

Jonathan Dowdall was given a concurrent four years and his father a concurrent three years in prison for threatening to kill the victim.

Both men clasped their hands in front of them and stared straight ahead as Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy passed sentence at the three-judge, non-jury court.

Judge Kennedy said: "These are most serious offences. The injured party was subjected to a horrendous and terrifying ordeal, he endured what can only be described as physical and mental torture at the hands of the Dowdalls."

The sentencing of the two men had been delayed after they contested some points of evidence at the last minute. That dispute was resolved in a hearing yesterday at which the accused and victim gave evidence and which resulted in the court rejecting most of the assertions made by the Dowdalls - including their denials that the IRA was mentioned.

Previously, the court heard Jonathan Dowdall, a father of four with a successful electrical company, put a motorbike up for sale and was contacted by Mr Hurley to buy it. The former Sinn Fein member was a Dublin City Councillor at the time.

After an initial meeting, he believed he was being duped by Mr Hurley when he researched him on the internet and came across scamming allegations.

Dowdall invited Mr Hurley to dinner but instead he and his father tied him with cable ties to a swivel chair in the garage and tried to force a confession out of him.

Mr Hurley pleaded for his life as Jonathan Dowdall covered his face with a tea-cloth and doused his head with water. Patrick Dowdall threatened to cut his fingers off with a pliers.

Mr Hurley heard someone saying they would "feed him to dogs, chop him up, place him in cellophane bags and store him in the boot of a BMW" if he did not tell the truth, and that his head would be burned at the stake.

"(Jonathan Dowdall) told me I hadn't got a clue who he is and asked me 'do you know who I am?' I said I didn't. He said he was part of Sinn Fein and the IRA," Mr Hurley said.

He said Patrick Dowdall "backed up" the statement saying his son was "a very highly recognised figure".

The court was shown the "grim and harrowing" footage of some of Mr Hurley's interrogation, in which Dowdall, wearing a balaclava, shaved his head and shouted questions at him.

Mr Hurley said a third, unidentified man was there but this was denied by the Dowdalls, who also both said they did not know who filmed the interrogation.

After his ordeal, he said he was driven to a remote location and was told to "get the f**k out of Dublin".

"I was told if I go to the f***ing gardai I will be picked up in a matter for hours, we have eyes everywhere and we will kill your family," he said.

Gardai only discovered what the Dowdalls had done a year later when they searched the Dowdalls' Dublin home on March 9, 2016 for a separate reason and found a video of the incident on a USB stick.

In a victim impact statement, Mr Hurley said Jonathan Dowdall "proceeded to torture me to the point of death's door" and that his psychological injuries would never heal.

In evidence, he admitted he had posed as a barrister and taken "wrong turns" earlier in his life but insisted he did not go to the Dowdalls' to deceive them and intended to buy the bike.

"I was worried sick that my identity was being taken and I wanted to frighten him that he wouldn't use my identity for further scams," Jonathan Dowdall told the court yesterday.

"I can't justify it, it was wrong, it shouldn't have happened," he said. "It ruined my family's life and affected Mr Hurley's life."

Patrick Dowdall said in evidence: "Nothing was planned, it was a spur of the moment thing, it just got out of hand."

Judge Kennedy said video recording the events had been reprehensible enough but facilitating a young person in making the recording was very concerning and an aggravating factor.

The video which was played back to the court showed a "truly terrifying ordeal which words could not adequately convey."

It was fortunate that the recordings were recovered by the gardai in bringing the accused to justice but on the other hand it was "chilling" that they were made, she said.

That Jonathan Dowdall had said he would upload the video to Youtube if necessary showed his "moral compass is fundamentally skewed," the judge continued.

The victim could be seen and heard whimpering and pleading but despite his obvious fear, this "callous and brutal attack" continued, she said.

Judge Kennedy said the court wished to deprecate in "the strongest possible terms" the disputing by the accused of evidence of "marginal materiality" which led to the "Newton" hearing.

The victim had been subjected to giving evidence and the trauma of having his credibility attacked, she said.

The duration of the victim's ordeal, if it was shorter, did not lessen the gravity of the offending conduct. Putting the victim through the trauma of giving evidence "significantly lessens the credit that would otherwise be given for a very late plea of guilty," Judge Kennedy said.

She then listed nine aggravating factors: the significant harm caused to the victim; the gratuitous, humiliating and degrading nature of what was done; its prolonged nature; the terror felt by the victim; the use of restraint in cable ties and the use of a cloth and bucket of water; production of pliers in the course of issuing threats; the severe impact on the victim and the recording of the event.

Emphasis had been placed on the injured party's history by the defence and the judge also took account of the "continuous, savage" nature of the attack.

Mitigating factors for Jonathan Dowdall included his plea of guilty, his apology, lack of relevant previous convictions, his work record and his physical and mental health.

The judge said putting the victim through giving evidence in the "Newton" hearing reduced the discount the accused would otherwise be given for a plea.

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said, the court considered 14 years an appropriate sentence for Jonathan Dowdall. Taking into account mitigating factors, the court reduced the sentence to 12 years.

"Despite his protestations of remorse, the Newton hearing had the effect of tainting the genuine nature of that remorse," she said.

Ms Justice Kennedy said that Patrick Dowdall had "less involvement" in the ordeal and the court considered 11 years an appropriate sentence. Taking into account mitigating factors such as his health issues and his history of depression, the court reduced the sentence to eight years.

Ms Justice Kennedy said all sentences were to run concurrently and were backdated to May 17, 2016.

Alison O'Riordan/Andrew Phelan