monk on trial | 

Jonathan Dowdall to take the stand in Gerry Hutch murder trial on Monday

Today, the Special Criminal Court heard while Dowdall has not yet been accepted onto the witness protection programme, Mr Hutch is “anxious” for the trial to proceed

Andrew PhelanSunday World

FORMER Sinn Fein councillor Jonathan Dowdall is set to give evidence on Monday in Gerard “The Monk” Hutch’s trial for the Regency Hotel murder.

The ex-politician is to testify for the prosecution following delays in establishing his status as a protected witness.

Today, the Special Criminal Court heard while Dowdall has not yet been accepted onto the witness protection programme, Hutch is “anxious” for the trial to proceed and “happy” for his evidence to be heard next week to avoid further adjournments.

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.

Byrne (33), a Kinahan gang member, was shot dead at the Regency Hotel, Dublin on February 5, 2016.

Five armed raiders, three wielding assault rifles and disguised as ERU gardai, stormed the hotel and opened fire during a boxing weigh-in event, in an attack that fuelled the bloody Kinahan-Hutch gang feud.

Hutch (59), of The Paddocks, Clontarf denies murdering Mr Byrne. Dowdall (44) is serving a four-year sentence for facilitating the murder by helping his father Patrick Dowdall to book a room at the Regency for use by the perpetrators the night before the attack.

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’s proposed evidence does not relate to them.

Before today's hearing, Ms Justice Tara Burns had asked if Dowdall had been accepted into the garda Witness Protection Programme.

This followed defence concerns that the issue should be resolved in advance of Dowdall giving evidence.

The court had heard Dowdall’s assessment for the programme had commenced but no determination was made yet.

Yesterday, prosecutor Sean Gillane SC said there were still “further steps to be taken.”

Ms Justice Burns noted there was no date given for when the issue could be progressed and said she was “astonished” that the prosecution had been put in this position. The case was adjourned yesterday for further information.

Jonathan Dowdall (left) and his father Patrick leaving court

Today, Mr Gillane said Dowdall's assessment for suitability for the WPP was ongoing and confirmed that the uncertainty did not arise from any difficulty with Dowdall or those responsible for administering the programme.

The assessment had been progressing at pace but had reached a point where reports were required from external agencies with “people in disciplines which the court will be familiar with in other trials.”

The time in which those people could report was not within the control of the administrators of the programme, Mr Gillane said.

“I can confirm that all the relevant material that those people need to report has been transferred,” he said.

Based on past experience, there was a “very solid expectation” that those reports would be in well before the end of the month.

The next step to be taken is it will then go to a review group to make a decision. There was a reasonable expectation that a decision in terms of rejection or acceptance onto the programme would be done by the middle of January.

Mr Gillane said he could not offer the court a date. He reiterated that Dowdall was a sentenced person in prison and it was “not a difficulty created by him that we are where we are.”

He said he knew there was a view that the decision should be made before Dowdall’s evidence is heard but he proposed that the court proceed with the evidence next week.

He submitted it was not necessary to have the decision in advance and there had been cases where evidence was heard prior to formal admission of a witness to the WPP.

Ms Justice Burns asked if this had always been the expectation, and if the court had been under the misguided apprehension that there would be a decision.

Clearly, she said, the prosecution could never have been told there would be a decision (before the evidence.)

Mr Gillane said it had always been his position that that would be so. He always thought it would be part of the calculated consideration. He said the defence had wanted the trial to commence. Mr Gillane never thought Dowdall would be admitted to the programme within “a week or two.”

Ms Justice Burns said “we are where we are, there’s no point in me getting cross again.”

David Byrne

Hutch's barrister Brendan Grehan SC said when he raised the issue the defence had no information as to whether Dowdall was being accepted onto the programme.

“We have nothing,” he said.

Mr Gillane said the average time it takes to be admitted to the programme was about six months.

Ms Justice Burns said she did not accept that and she had been involved in a case where it was done more quickly.

“It’s pointless me getting upset about it again,” she said.

Mr Gillane said the prosecution had corresponded with the defence in October and told them Dowdall had not been admitted to the programme, that he was being assessed and no material or financial benefits had been afforded to him.

The first the court had been told of any issue was during an admissibility argument and she thought it could be put to one side, adding “perhaps it was foolish on our side,” Ms Justice Burns said.

Mr Grehan said his position had been made very clear from the very start when the defence became aware that Dowdall was to be a witness that

Hutch wanted the trial to proceed.

That “has been our position throughout and once we learned of Mr Dowdall’s circumstances at the beginning of October ,” he said.

“Since then, the spectre of Jonathan Dowdall giving evidence has hung over this trial in various ways,” Mr Grehan said.

The defence’s core position was that they wanted to proceed and at the start it was indicated that Dowdall’s testimony would be “backloaded” in the trial and it was never anticipated that it would be before December.

The defence did anticipate however that there would be a decision (on witness protection) by then “and we would have some transparency.”

Gerry Hutch

He said he needed to take instructions from Mr Hutch about the prosecution’s proposal to proceed notwithstanding the absence of information.

“I’m not comfortable at all with the timetable that has been proffered”, he said, and that it was “expected” there would be a report.

After an adjournment, Mr Grehan said having taken instructions the position was “Mr Hutch is anxious that his trial should proceed.”

“He’s not at all convinced about the timetable suggested or that it would necessarily yield any fruit,” Mr Grehan said.

The defence had explained to Mr Hutch why in the ordinary course they would like to have this information. One issue was that Dowdall’s admittance into the programme was “separate and distinct and not tied in any way to the evidence that he gives in this trial.

Mr Grehan said this should be dealt with if Dowdall finally commences his evidence on Monday “despite the hiccups we have had.”

He asked if the court could advise Dowdall on that at the beginning of his evidence and ascertain from the prosecution that his admission into the

WPP was separate and distinct to “performance, so to speak.”

He understood this was a “core principle” of the WPP and that being the case, “we are happy to proceed on Monday.”

Mr Gillane said the WPP and evidence were “utterly unconnected.”

“We are anxious not to get involved in directing Mr Dowdall as to what may or may not be the consequences of him giving evidence,” the judge said.

The scene outside the Regency Hotel after the shooting in February 2016

They did not want to involve themselves in advising Dowdall on matters “of which have no evidence.”

She asked the prosecution to call an appropriate person from the WPP to give evidence first on Monday. Mr Gillane said a Detective

Superintendent would be available to give evidence on Monday.

This week was mostly spent on a hearing over the admissibility of Dowdall's evidence, which the defence had claimed would be unfair to Mr Hutch.

The defence had objected to his evidence, arguing that his statement was “tainted” by the dropping of his murder charge in a "quid pro quo” with the prosecution, and Mr Hutch would not get a fair trial as a result.

Mr Grehan had also objected to the manner in which Dowdall provided a written account when he met gardai before he made his statement and the lack of an audio-video recording at those early meetings. He argued this adversely affected his ability to cross-examine Dowdall on any inconsistencies.

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

Yesterday, the court ruled Dowdall’s evidence was admissible, saying no "fundamental unfairness" arose from the circumstances in which Dowdall gave his statement.

She said the statement had not been given in return for his murder charge being dropped, as had been contended by Mr Hutch's defence.

The court also found no unfairness arose from the records of the early garda meetings, saying notes had been taken and Dowdall initialled his own written account.


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