By Cate McCurry, PA
Gerry “The Monk” Hutch told a former Sinn Féin councillor that he was one of the group that shot David Byrne dead at a hotel in Dublin, the Special Criminal Court has heard.
Hutch (59) met Jonathan Dowdall in a car park in the days after the murder in February 2016, and told him “they” had carried out the murder of Mr Byrne at the Regency Hotel, said Sean Gillane SC, for the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Hutch pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr Byrne when he was arraigned before the Special Criminal Court on Tuesday as the murder trial was opened.
Mr Byrne (34) was killed during a crowded boxing bout weigh-in in one of the early attacks of the Hutch-Kinahan gangland feud.
On Tuesday, Mr Gillane said the murder attracted significant publicity and Hutch became “edgy and worked up” after a picture showing a man in a wig and another man in flat cap running from the hotel was published in a newspaper.
The prosecution claims these two men were part of a six-person group involved in the attack.
The court was told that Hutch contacted Dowdall and arranged to meet him at a car park in Whitehall, Dublin, after the publication of the picture in a Sunday newspaper.
Mr Gillane said Dowdall described Hutch as being “edgy and worked up”.
He was said to have asked Dowdall to arrange a meeting with republicans because of the escalation of the feud with the Kinahans and threats made to friends and family members.
Dowdall then drove him to Northern Ireland on March 7th to meet senior republicans.
Mr Gillane said Dowdall drove Hutch to a meeting in Strabane and the conversation between the pair was captured as the vehicle in which they were travelling was under surveillance.
He said many topics were discussed, including events at the hotel and “related matters”.
The prosecutor said Hutch discussed the feud with Kinahans and efforts to make peace or seek a ceasefire.
Mr Gillane also said Hutch was heard saying he was not going to show “a weak hand in looking for peace”, and “it is very hard to get involved where the Kinahans are concerned because the messenger gets it”.
A number of republicans contacts are named in relation to the feud, as well as Kevin Murray – believed to be linked to the IRA – and the possible implication of his involvement in the murder, the court was told.
Hutch also talked about “three yokes” and giving them as a present to republicans, the court heard.
Mr Gillane said the court will be asked to infer that three yokes are the three rifles used in the murder of Mr Byrne.
There was also a discussion of what may or may not be admitted and that Hutch said one particular republican “knows it was them” at the Regency Hotel.
It also emerged that two days later, on March 9th, a named individual was stopped by gardaí outside Slane, Co Meath, after travelling from Dublin.
The man was arrested after gardaí searched his car and found three rifles in the back.
The court was told that discarded cartridges found at the scene were examined, and it was determined that these were fired from the rifles discovered in the car.
Hutch, wearing a navy blazer and purple shirt, listened to proceedings on headphones as the trial commenced.
Two other men are also on trial on charges related to the murder.
Paul Murphy (59), of Cabra Road, Swords, and Jason Bonney, 50, of Drumnigh Wood in Portmarnock, also pleaded not guilty.
They are charged with providing a motor vehicle to a criminal organisation with knowledge or having been reckless to whether those actions could facilitate a serious offence by the organisation.
The charges relate to two vehicles.
The three defendants sat side by side in the dock as the prosecution outlined events on the day Mr Byrne was killed.
Mr Gillane also said: “It’s the prosecution case that this deliberate killing was carried out without restraint by a group of people, of which Hutch was one.
“And, just as the textbook says, there can be no fences without thieves. A killing like this cannot be carried out without planning and assistance.”
Members of the victim’s family watched from the public gallery of the court.
The non-jury trial is being heard by three judges – Tara Burns, Sarah Berkeley and Grainne Malone.
There was a high security presence inside and outside the Special Criminal Court as the first day of the trial began.
Dowdall was sentenced on Monday to four years in prison for facilitating the murder of Mr Byrne.
The 44-year-old former councillor and his 65-year-old father Patrick, with the same address in Navan Road, Dublin, admitted assisting a criminal gang to commit the murder.
Patrick Dowdall was jailed for two years for his role in the killing.
Jonathan Dowdall has said he is willing to give evidence in the trial of Hutch.
Dowdall had been due to stand trial for the murder, but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of facilitating the offence by booking a room at the hotel.
Giving evidence on the first day of the trial, Mel Christle, former president of the Boxing Union of Ireland, said he heard gunshots as he was on stage during the weigh-in.
He said that an international boxing event had been organised for Saturday, February 6th at the National Boxing Stadium. A number of boxers with MGM management were on the bill, the court also heard.
Mr Christle had been at the hotel on the day of the shooting to oversee the event to ensure that all boxing and safety regulations were being complied with.
He said there were around 200 to 250 people in the room, including young children.
Mr Christle told the court that he heard around eight gunshots followed by people shouting and screaming.
“There was mayhem. Some of [the people] were diving to the floor, others were retreating backward out of the path of the two individuals who had come into the room, each holding a gun,” he added.
“The person in the lead was quite obviously a man dressed up as a woman with a blonde wig with bits of purple or pink through the wig – there was no doubt it was a man, even from way he was running.
“Behind him was a middle-aged gent with a country cap on his head, and he was stocky.”
He said that a short time after the shooting, he made his way to the hotel reception where he saw the body of a man.
“There were a couple of women who were quite agitated and there was a body slumped on the ground, almost resting his head up against the base of the reception desk,” Mr Christle added.
“There was a woman there who was distraught and she was saying that they shot ‘Kevin’, I think I recall. The body that was on the ground was a corpse and its face had been blown off.”
He said that he saw two other people who had been shot during the attack. One was shot in the leg and was being treated by one of the boxing trainers, while another victim appeared to have been shot in the stomach.