More than six years after the father-of-two was gunned down by armed raiders and a year after Hutch was extradited from Spain to be charged, ‘The Monk’ finally stood before the Special Criminal Court on Tuesday to plead not guilty.
Murder accused Hutch (59) of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin is on trial alongside two other men. Paul Murphy (59) of Cherry Avenue, Swords and Jason Bonney (50) of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock both deny facilitating Byrne’s killing by providing vehicles for the perpetrators.
The non-jury trial is expected to last 12 weeks. Four days of prosecution evidence have now been heard.
The backdrop to the attack was a boxing weigh-in at the hotel on February 5, 2016, amid a feud between the Kinahan and Hutch crime gangs.
The weigh-in was for an upcoming event called ‘The Clash of the Clans’ co-promoted by MGM, which ran a Spanish gym linked to the Kinahans.
It was widely publicised and the attendance of “people associated with the gym would have been anticipated”, prosecutor Sean Gillane SC told the court’s three judges. The hotel was full of boxers, trainers and families with children when an attack team stormed the building “in the middle of the day”. The attackers had exited in a silver Ford Transit van.
There were six in the team – five gunmen and a driver. First, a young man dressed as a woman, in a blonde wig and a dress, ran in with a second, middle-aged man in a flat cap.
This pair ran a “loop” together through the hotel, firing handguns, sending people fleeing in panic. The “flat cap” man is the only one to be identified so far – now-deceased Kevin Murray, who had paramilitary links.
They were followed moments later by three masked gunmen with AK-47 assault rifles, disguised as Emergency Response Unit (ERU) gardai and referred to in court as “Tactical 1, 2 and 3”.
Some people at the scene thought they were real gardaí but they then opened fire, escalating the panic. Byrne, aged 33, was among those fleeing into the lobby and was shot by Tactical 1 and 2.
The second shooter jumped the reception counter to “calmly and coldly” stand and fire more rounds into Byrne’s “prone” body.
All five returned to the waiting van and left.
Mr Gillane said it was clear the attackers had been looking for particular people and the “execution-style killing” suggested an “organised, resourced group” rather than a random attack.
Two other men were shot and injured but did not co-operate with gardaí.
The court heard the prosecution will have evidence from former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall, a co-accused who turned State witness before the trial started. He and his father Patrick were jailed this week after pleading guilty to facilitating the murder by making a room at the hotel available for the gang.
Jonathan Dowdall is now claiming Hutch told him after the attack he had been “one of the team that shot David Byrne”.
The court heard there will also be evidence of a bugged conversation between the pair as they travelled to and from Northern Ireland for a meeting with republicans after the attack as the feud with the Kinahans escalated.
It is alleged Hutch discussed ceasefire efforts and said “he wasn’t going to show a weak hand and go looking for peace”.
“It’s very hard to get involved where the Kinahans are concerned because it doesn’t work, the messenger gets it,” he allegedly said.
Hutch also allegedly discussed “the three yokes” and giving them as “a present to republicans in the north.” The inference, according to the prosecution, was that the three yokes were the assault rifles used in the Regency murder.
Their use was described as a “massive statement” and Hutch allegedly said one particular republican contact “knows it is them at the Regency”.
Mel Christle, then-president of the Boxing Union of Ireland, said he was on stage at the weigh-in and described the panic and “mayhem” that followed after the men in the wig and flat cap ran in with guns.
“The person in the lead was quite obviously a man dressed up as a woman, with a blonde wig with bits of pink and purple through the wig,” he recalled.
He heard gunfire “like small bombs” go off as people ran and screamed. As he left the hotel, he encountered two injured men, then saw Byrne’s “disfigured” body slumped against the reception desk. His “face had been blown off.”
Newspaper photographers covering the weigh-in were caught up in the unfolding events and pictured some of the raiders.
Colin O’Riordan was there for Independent News & Media and while outside, his colleague, reporter Robin Schiller told him he had earlier spotted Daniel Kinahan in the hotel.
They heard a bang which Mr Schiller said was “a gunshot” before two people in balaclavas and “garda ERU-style” ran in carrying AK47s, which he thought was “bogus” and he photographed them.
Mr O’Riordan saw the barrel of another gun when a raider fired and shouted at a passing shopper to “get the f**k out of here”. In fear for his life, he held his hands up as the raiders passed him on the way out, and he heard the man in the wig say: “He wasn’t there, I couldn’t see him.”
Sunday World photographer Ernie Leslie was parked outside and saw a hand come out the window of a silver van holding a “machine gun of some kind.”
As he went to photograph it, he saw “Flat Cap” running and took pictures of him. The gun in the van swung around to point at him and he reversed away.
Regency hotelier James McGettigan said when what appeared to be masked gardaí suddenly came in, he thought there was “some incident locally”, but there was “pandemonium” and the gunmen told everybody to lie on the ground.
He could see one of the gunmen was quite young and he expected him to identify himself, but he left again as shots were fired.
Mr McGettigan felt there was something “untoward” going on and “these weren’t the police”, so he locked himself into a room and called gardaí.
Then-Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis said Byrne suffered “catastrophic” fatal head injuries when he was gunned down and would have died “rapidly if not instantaneously”.
In all, he was struck six times, to his head, body, hand and legs by bullets from high-velocity weapons.
The court saw CCTV footage capturing the moment Byrne was shot, and the scenes of panic as people fled.
Earlier video showed Jonathan Dowdall’s father Patrick at the hotel the evening before, getting key cards for the room they had booked for the gang.
Less than an hour after Dowdall vacated the room, Kevin “Flat Cap” Murray was seen using it before leaving the hotel the next morning carrying a holdall bag.
After fleeing in the van, six men alleged to be the attackers are seen running down a laneway leading to St Vincent’s GAA club, where vehicles allegedly involved in the raid were parked up.
The court heard the prosecution will claim Paul Murphy was linked to a Toyota Avensis taxi and Jason Bonney to a BMW jeep, both alleged to have been involved in the crimes.
CCTV footage was played that purports to show Bonney getting into this jeep on the morning of February 5, 2016. It then drives from Portmarnock to Buckingham Street, an area where the prosecution says vehicles involved in the raid assembled.
Later, the BMW is seen parking up at St Vincent’s GAA club less than half an hour before the attack. Minutes after the raid, six people are seen on CCTV running down a lane toward the club and one, a man in a flat cap, gets into the BMW. Bonney’s defence lawers are challenging the admissibility of this footage.
Investigating gardaí testified that an abandoned, burned-out silver Ford Transit van was found in nearby Charlemont estate later on the day of the shooting.
Around the car on the ground were bullets and cartridge cases. Cartridges were linked to the Regency attack.
A month after the shooting, gardaí intercepted a Vauxhall Insignia driven by IRA member Shane Rowan as he travelled north near Slane, Co Meath and found three AK47 rifles with magazine clips and ammunition in the boot. Prosecutors say bullet casings from the Regency attack came from these guns.