Monk on trial | 

Jonathan Dowdall to be allowed give evidence in Gerry Hutch murder trial, court rules

However, the court has not yet heard when Dowdall will be available to testify.

Andrew PhelanSunday World

FORMER Sinn Fein councillor Jonathan Dowdall is to be allowed give evidence against Regency Hotel murder accused Gerard “The Monk” Hutch, the Special Criminal Court has ruled.

Dowdall (44) can be called as a witness for the prosecution after the three-judge court decided that his statement and testimony are admissible.

However, the court has not yet heard when Dowdall will be available to testify.

Dowdall had originally also been charged with murdering David Byrne at the Regency but before the trial started, he instead pleaded guilty to a lesser offence and turned state’s witness against Mr Hutch.

Ms Justice Tara Burns today said no "fundamental unfairness" arose from the circumstances in which Dowdall gave his statement and the court would proceed to hear his evidence. She said Dowdall's statement had not been given in return for his murder charge being dropped, as had been contended by Mr Hutch's defence.

However, the court needs to know if Dowdall had been accepted into the witness protection programme before he gives evidence and Ms Justice Burns said she was "astonished" that this information was not available yet.

She said it was "not good enough" that the prosecution had been put in this position by the relevant agency and adjourned the case to tomorrow for further information on Dowdall's witness protection status.

The defence had objected to Dowdall's evidence, arguing it would be “tainted” by the dropping of his murder charge in a "quid pro quo".

The prosecution said everything done in relation to Dowdall was "above board" and the court had a right "to hear every man's evidence."

Jonathan Dowdall (left) with his father Patrick leaving court

Mr Hutch (59), of The Paddocks, Clontarf denies murdering David Byrne (33), a Kinahan gang member who was shot dead at the Regency Hotel, Dublin on February 5, 2016.

Mr Byrne was killed after five armed raiders, three wielding assault rifles and disguised as ERU gardai, stormed the hotel during a boxing weigh-in event, in an attack that fuelled the bloody Kinahan-Hutch feud.

Also on trial are Paul Murphy (61) of Cherry Avenue, Swords and Jason Bonney (51) of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock, Dublin who deny helping the perpetrators by providing cars.

Dowdall is serving a four-year sentence for facilitating the murder by helping his father Patrick Dowdall to book a room at the Regency for a criminal organisation the night before the attack.

Last Friday, the court ruled admissible tapes of conversations between Mr Hutch and Jonathan Dowdall as they drove north a month after the Regency shooting.

Ms Justice Burns said in that ruling that although some eight hours of the audio evidence was illegally recorded by gardai in Northern Ireland, it could all be used in evidence in the interest of justice.

The court has heard Dowdall claimed in his garda statement that Mr Hutch confessed his direct involvement in the murder to him when the pair allegedly met in a park days after the Regency attack.

The second main allegation Dowdall has made is that after his father Patrick Dowdall booked a room at the Regency the night before the murder, it was Gerard Hutch his father handed the keys over to.

In her ruling, the judge said in relation to the defence’s claim that there was a “quid pro quo” between Dowdall and the state, the sequence of the events leading to his statement established that this was “not given by him in return for the murder charge being dropped.”

It was a matter for the DPP to determine whether a murder charge was proferred or a plea acceptable to a lesser charge, she said.

The reality was that “not infrequently” in the court, pleas to lesser charges were offered where murder charges were initially proferred. When the DPP initially did not decide to withdraw Dowdall’s murder charge with a nolle prosequi, it was in circumstances where “no other offer was on the table.”

That situation changed when Dowdall’s solicitor directly contacted the DPP to offer a plea to the lesser charge. When the DPP determined that the plea would be accepted and a nolle prosequi entered on the murder charge, Dowdall’s statement had not yet been provided.

Once the DPP sent the formal letter accepting the plea, “her hands were tied and she could not walk away,” the judge said.

The reality was that Dowdall could have called the DPP’s bluff and not given his statement, she said.

There was no fundamental unfairness arising from these events, she concluded.

The court also disagreed with the defence submission of unfairness in relation to the garda decision not to record Dowdall’s meetings with them before he gave his statement.

She said notes were taken and the garda gave evidence of where mistakes were made or matters “misinterpreted.”

If Mr Dowdall takes issue with the account it will be a matter for the court to resolve, she said.

It was of significance that Dowdall had put his initials at the bottom of the document he brought to a garda meeting.

"While this issue is not without difficulty, it is not of a magnitude that results in unfairness such that the witness should not be called," she said.

The judge quoted a Supreme Court ruling that stated a court was entitled to “hear every man’s evidence.”

“The court will proceed to hear the evidence of Mr Dowdall,” she said.

The issue of when Dowdall would be able to give evidence then arose.

Yesterday, the judge had asked prosecutor Sean Gillane SC to find out if Dowdall had been accepted into the Witness Protection Programme, following a defence query.

Mr Gillane had said Dowdall’s assessment for the programme had commenced but no determination was made yet.

Today, he handed a letter in to the court saying it did not directly address the query and said further steps were to be taken.

Mr Gillane suggested the case was listed for tomorrow and asked the court to “budget for hearing Mr Dowdall’s evidence on Monday.”

If this was not possible, he said he would use the court’s time whatever way he could.

Ms Justice Burns said the court had been working hard to be in a position to finish the trial in a timely manner and she was surprised that there was no date for when matters could be progressed.

External agencies needed to realise a trial was being held, she said.

“I’m not one bit happy that this is the position you find yourself in,” she told Mr Gillane.

She said it was “not good enough” and she was “astonished.”

Ms Justice Burns said she had thought that Mr Dowdall would have got into the witness box on Monday and she thought “we would have an answer today but we don’t.”

She asked for this to be conveyed back to the appropriate authorities.

She found it “quite astonishing” to be in this position when “everybody is talking about Mr Dowdall getting into the witness box.”

The judge suggested she was sure Mr Gillane will have an answer tomorrow or perhaps evidence from an appropriate person because “it’s just not good enough that we are not using the court’s time appropriately.”

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