under surveillance | 

Jonathan Dowdall ‘brought’ Gerry Hutch to north weeks before Regency murder, trial told

According to intelligence, Dowdall travelled to Derry to meet Martin McLoone of Abercon Road, Derry of the Real IRA on January 5, 2016.

Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch (left) and Jonathan Dowdall

A member of the Garda Armed Support Unit on duty at the Special Criminal Court where the trial of Gerry Hutch for the murder of David Byrne continues. PIC: Collins Courts

Paul Murphy

Jason Bonney

David Byrne who was killed in the Regency Hotel shooting

Andrew PhelanSunday World

MURDER accused Gerard “The Monk” Hutch is believed to have travelled to Northern Ireland with former Sinn Fein councillor Jonathan Dowdall weeks before the Regency hotel shooting, the Special Criminal Court heard.

When undercover detectives planted covert surveillance devices on Dowdall’s jeep in the weeks after the attack, they also suspected the pair had since been meeting “to organise criminal activity."

The court was also told after Mr Hutch was arrested and charged, gardai destroyed records from the tracker that was on the jeep when Dowdall allegedly drove him north again, to meet republicans.

Mr Hutch is on trial charged with murdering David Byrne who was shot dead at the Regency on February 5, 2016.

Two co-accused men, Jason Bonney and Paul Murphy are accused of helping the criminal organisation responsible by providing cars used to drive the assailants away after the shooting.

Mr Byrne (33), a Kinahan gang member, was killed when three assault rifle-wielding masked gunmen, disguised as ERU gardai, stormed the Regency in north Dublin along with an armed man dressed as a woman in a blonde wig, and another in a flat cap.

The attack on a boxing weigh-in event happened as a bloody feud raged between the Kinahan and Hutch gangs.

Mr Hutch (59), of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin, Mr Murphy (61) of Cherry Avenue, Swords and Mr Bonney (51) of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock, deny the charges against them.

David Byrne who was killed in the Regency Hotel shooting

Before the trial started, Jonathan Dowdall and his father Patrick were jailed for facilitating the murder by booking a room at the Regency for use by the perpetrators.

This afternoon, William Johnson, the now-retired former head of the garda National Surveillance Unit gave evidence of how authorisation was given to deploy tracker, logger and audio devices on Dowdall’s Toyota Land Cruiser before he allegedly drove Mr Hutch north on February 20, 2016.

Then-Det Supt Johnson said he received an application for approval to deploy tracker and logger devices on the jeep from Det Supt Ciaran Hoey on February 16, 2016, for a two-month period, with a direction to retrieve it on April 19,2016.

Mr Johnson then gave evidence of getting authorisation for an audio device for the same Land Cruiser from a district court judge on February 17, 2016.

He was aware that gardai investigating the Regency murder nominated Jonathan and Patrick Dowdall as being among a number of suspected members of an Organised Crime Group.

He prepared an application for a surveillance device, this time an audio device for Dowdall’s jeep. It was to gather evidence and was considered the least intrusive method available and proportionate to the circumstances.

Episode 187: The north inner city neighbourhood which the State say was used by the Regency Hit team

Gardai would enter the jeep by force if necessary and the period was for February 17 to April 16, 2016.

The device was to monitor conversations between Jonathan Dowdall and his associates, as part of organised criminal activity.

In his grounds given to the district court judge at the time, he said Dowdall was a former Sinn Fein Dublin City Council member for the north inner city. He was elected in the 2014 local elections and resigned from his seat and the Sinn Fein party in February 2015.

According to intelligence, Dowdall travelled to Derry to meet Martin McLoone of Abercon Road, Derry of the Real IRA on January 5, 2016. Intelligence also suggested he brought Gerry “The Monk” Hutch to Derry on January 18, 2016.

Both Hutch and Dowdall were persons of interest in the murder of David Byrne.

On February 12, 2016, Mr Hutch called to Dowdall’s home where Det Supt Johnson believed they had a meeting to “organise criminal activity as members of an organised crime group and may relate to the murder of David Byrne.”

A member of the Garda Armed Support Unit on duty at the Special Criminal Court where the trial of Gerry Hutch for the murder of David Byrne continues. PIC: Collins Courts

Intelligence indicated Dowdall’s jeep was being used by him, his father, members of the OCG and/or their associates to travel to meetings.

On February 11, 2016, Jonathan and Patrick Dowdall travelled to Northern Ireland where Det Supt Johnson believed they met with members of the Continuity IRA.

The deployment of the audio device was for the purpose of recording conversations of occupants “in relation to their criminal activity as members of an OCG.”

All other methods used had no success to date, he said, and there was no other method of monitoring conversations of the OCG while in the vehicle.

Monitoring would be discontinued if any person deemed to be innocent was in the vehicle.

The audio was retrieved on a date before May 14 that year.

In cross examination, Mr Johnson told Brendan Grehan SC, for Mr Hutch, he did not tell the district court judge a tracker had been authorised for the same jeep the day before, but he “did tell him the gardai were involved in an investigation.” He did not tell the judge the jeep might leave the jurisdiction because he could only deal with what he knew at the time.

The law was confined to surveillance within the state, he agreed. He said the word “monitoring” did not necessarily mean it was “live” surveillance and the word was open to interpretation.

He denied that the district court judge was misled by ambiguous language.

Mr Grehan asked Mr Johnson said he did not know what happened to the destroyed tracker records, which happened after his time, but agreed in a prosecution the DPP should have a say in whether they might be required for a case.

The court heard they were destroyed on February 7 this year, when the prosecution was listed before the court.

Jason Bonney

Earlier, Mr Grehan challenged a claim of privilege by members of the NSU in not disclosing the date ther tracking device was deployed on Dowdall's jeep before his alleged journey north with Mr Hutch on February 20, 2016.

Prosecutor Fiona Murphy SC said the defence had already been furnished with evidence of the fact of the tracker being authorised, that there was physical surveillance of the jeep by the PSNI while it was in Northern Ireland and the only thing that was not stated was the date the tracker was deployed.

Mr Grehan said it was only last Friday that the prosecution had disclosed that surveillance had been carried out by the PSNI.

The defence was told there “isn’t a shred of paper” on that interaction with the gardai.

Whether there was a tracker on the jeep had been a live issue before the trial started and the defence had put it on the record as a relevant issue while members of the NSU gave evidence. Members who were asked if there was a tracker on the jeep had claimed privilege in not answering.

It was only last Friday that the defence was told in a letter from the prosecution and statement by the NSU superintendent involved that there was a tracker on the Land Cruiser, Mr Grehan said.

The court heard the prosecution disclosed that the tracker was authorised on February 16, 2016 and deployed some time between February and May that year. Privilege was still claimed over the exact date of deployment.

This was on the grounds that it would be a risk to the lives of members involved in surveillance and a serious threat to the security of the state to reveal the NSU’s methodology and tradecraft.

Mr Grehan said he had no interest in how the tracker was deployed, only when.

He said another issue had arisen when the defence was told yesterday for the first time that “all records for the tracker have been destroyed.”

“And more disturbing still, we were told they were destroyed during the currency of this prosecution,” he said.

Paul Murphy

This was not during the trial, he said, but since Mr Hutch had been brought before the court. A third issue was in relation to records of any “cross border interaction” as the defence was only told on Friday that the PSNI had any involvement beyond providing CCTV evidence.

They were told there were no notes or records and Mr Grehan said this was “extraordinary.”

Ms Murphy said the destruction of records was done in accordance with legislation.

Head of the NSU, Det Supt Eugene Lynch said in evidence privilege was claimed over the surveillance devices to protect the methodology and tradecraft behind the devices.

He said Det Supt William Johnson had authorised a tracker on the Land Cruiser on February 16, 2016, only to provide information on the location of a vehicle, person or thing. There was no recorded data around these movements.

On February 20, 2016, Det Supt Lynch received secret, sensitive intelligence that Dowdall was to travel to Northern Ireland. He was aware the PSNI had a surveillance operation in place around this possible travel. There was physical surveillance of the jeep in the north and there was interaction with the gardai in relation to it going in and out of Northern Ireland.

This was oral communication and there were no notes.

Det Supt Lynch agreed with Mr Grehan that the date a tracker was fitted was significant. When an audio device goes “live” it is self-evident, but the only record of a tracker going live was kept by the gardai, Mr Grehan said.

“If that is destroyed, there is no way of establishing it,” he said.

“That’s correct,” Det Supt Lynch said.

Mr Grehan asked if there was a policy around keeping and destroying records. Det Supt Lynch said it was covered in the Surveillance Act.

He said he did not know which device was used on the Land Cruiser. The court then heard the tracker was on the jeep when it travelled north on February 20, 2016.

Det Supt Lynch said the gardai knew the jeep travelled into the north because of the observation of members on the ground. Trackers were an aid to physical surveillance, he said.

He said Det Supt William Johnson had informed him of the PSNI surveillance operation. The two forces informed each other when the jeep entered and left each jurisdiction.

Mr Grehan confirmed to the court that having established that the tracker was in place on February 20 after being authorised on February 16, he had no interest in the intervening period.

“I think there is a real problem with the notes being destroyed, and I don’t accept that it was done in accordance with the Act,” he said.

The trial continues before Ms Justice Tara Burns, Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Grainne Malone.

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