Hutch trial: Court hears evidence from surveillance unit officers

Gerard 'The Monk' Hutch is on trial at the Special Criminal Court charged with the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in 2016
Hutch trial: Court hears evidence from surveillance unit officers

Alison O'Riordan

A surveillance garda saw Gerard 'The Monk' Hutch, who is accused of the murder of Kinahan Cartel member David Byrne, riding a black Honda motorcycle out of former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall's home just a week after the Regency Hotel shooting, the Special Criminal Court has heard.

Gerard Hutch (59), last of The Paddocks, Clontarf, Dublin 3, denies the murder of Mr Byrne (33) during a boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel on February 5th, 2016.

Members of the public have been excluded from the non-jury court during the testimony of officers from the Garda National Surveillance Unit (NSU).

The officers must not be identified by order of the court and are testifying under previously assigned initials. Their names have been handed in writing into the court and are being withheld from the defence and the media.

Jonathan Dowdall (44) – a married father of four with an address at Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 7 – was due to stand trial for Mr Byrne's murder alongside Mr Hutch but pleaded guilty in advance of the trial to a lesser charge of facilitating the Hutch gang by making a hotel room available ahead of the murder.

Dowdall has been jailed by the Special Criminal Court for four years for facilitating the Hutch gang in the murder of Mr Byrne.

The former Dublin councillor is currently being assessed for the Witness Protection Programme after agreeing to testify against Mr Hutch.

The Special Criminal Court has already viewed CCTV footage of what the State says is Mr Hutch making two separate journeys to Northern Ireland with Dowdall on February 20th and March 7th, 2016.

Last week, a surveillance garda testified that he saw Mr Hutch and Dowdall meeting convicted IRA member Shane Rowan, who was later caught with three AK-47 assault rifles used in the murder of Mr Byrne.

Honda motorcycle

An NSU member, identified in court on Tuesday as Member S, told prosecuting counsel Fiona Murphy SC that he was on duty in an unmarked garda vehicle at 6.40pm on February 12th, 2016 when he saw a black Honda motorcycle "drive [out] through" the gateway of Dowdall's house on the Navan Road.

He said the motorcycle turned left towards Ashtown, did a U-turn and then drove back in the direction of the city centre.

Member S said he recognised the driver of the motorcycle – who was wearing black bike gear and a dark helmet with the visor up – as Mr Hutch as he passed.

Under cross-examination, Member S told defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC, for Mr Hutch, that he could not recall the particular date that the surveillance operation had started, but said it was after February 5th, 2016.

Member S said this was an important sighting, so he had made notes at the first available opportunity.

A garda known as Member BZ testified that he observed Dowdall's grey Toyota Land Cruiser parked opposite Forest Park in Killygordon, Co Donegal at 11am on February 20th, 2016, adding it was beside a silver Renault Megane Scenic.

The Megane left the area at 2.35pm with two males in the vehicle, he said.

The witness said he observed a silver Volkswagen Passat leaving Forest Park at 12.30pm. Later that same day, at 7.22pm, Member BZ said he observed a Land Cruiser heading south on the M1 past Dromad, Co Louth and the driver was on his own in the jeep.

In his opening address, Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, said Mr Hutch had asked Dowdall to arrange a meeting with provisional republicans to mediate or resolve the Hutch-Kinahan feud due to the threats against the accused's family and friends.

Dowdall had driven Mr Hutch to meet the republicans on February 20th, 2016, he said.

On Tuesday, Member CZ gave evidence that he observed a Land Cruiser driven by Dowdall approaching Ardee from a northerly direction at 11.36pm on March 7th, and that Mr Hutch was a passenger in the vehicle.

Mr Hutch was wearing a "black monkey hat" or beanie hat, he said.

In the opening speech, Mr Gillane said Dowdall drove Mr Hutch north to a second meeting in Strabane, Co Tyrone on March 7th, 2016 and that their vehicle was the subject of surveillance.

The witness told Mr Grehan that he was not aware at what time the Land Cruiser had crossed the Border on March 7th. When asked if there was a tracker on the Land Cruiser, Member CZ said he was claiming privilege on the question.

Surveillance

Mr Grehan said the Land Cruiser had left the jurisdiction at 3.10pm. The witness said he could not offer evidence as to when the jeep had re-entered the jurisdiction.

"Were some of your colleagues following the Land Cruiser as it travelled through Northern Ireland?" Mr Grehan asked, to which the witness said he could not answer, adding he was not aware of any surveillance carried out in Northern Ireland.

Another officer called Member BU told Ms Murphy that at 3.51pm on March 9th, 2016, she observed Shane Rowan carrying a long cardboard box as he walked down the escalator of Clarehall Shopping Centre before entering Carphone Warehouse.

At 5.30pm, Rowan was a front seat passenger in a silver Yaris car, which was driven in the outbound carriageway on the Malahide Road, just beyond the Darndale roundabout.

Inspector Padraig Boyce has given evidence that he participated in "an intervention" at Tuiterath, Balrath, Slane, Co Meath on March 9th, 2016 at 7.05pm.

Shane Rowan, he said, from Forest Park, Killygordan, Co Donegal, was driving a grey 09 Donegal registered Vauxhall Insignia car and the vehicle was stopped at the side of the road.

The vehicle was searched and three assault rifles modelled on original AK-47's and ammunition were found in the boot of the car.

In July 2016, Rowan was jailed for seven and a half years for possession of assault rifles and ammunition. He was also sentenced to a concurrent sentence of four years in prison for IRA membership, backdated to March 9th, 2016.

Evidence has also been given that bullet cases found at the Regency Hotel murder scene were fired by the three AK-47 assault rifles.

Member DI said on Tuesday that he was on duty on the Malahide Road on March 9th when he saw Rowan exiting the car park of Clarehall Shopping Centre at 3.54pm and that he was carrying a box.

At 5.05pm, the witness said he observed a silver Toyota Yaris driven by Patrick Hutch Snr, who was wearing a flat cap, stopping at the lights of a junction on the Malahide Road and Greencastle Road. Rowan was in the passenger seat of the car, he added.

At 6.26pm, Member DI said he observed Rowan walking on Greencastle Road in the direction of the Malahide Road. The silver Yaris car was approximately 100 metres behind Rowan and it was being driven slowly by Patrick Hutch Snr, he added.

Member DI saw Rowan stop a grey Insignia at the lights at the same time as Patrick Hutch Senior had stopped his vehicle. Patrick Hutch Senior, from Champions Avenue in Dublin city centre, rolled down the window and turned right. Rowan drove onto the M2 before pulling in on the hard shoulder at 6.55pm.

Audio device

Member T said he was on duty at 2.45pm on March 7th when he observed a grey Land Cruiser approaching the M1 toll plaza. Dowdall was the driver of the car and Mr Hutch was in the front passenger seat, wearing a dark beanie hat pulled down onto his forehead, he said.

Under cross-examination, Member T told Michael Hourigan BL, defending Mr Hutch, that he did not think the passenger of the jeep had been identified at that stage and that his task was to confirm the person's identity.

Mr Hourigan asked the witness if he was aware there was an audio device in the Land Cruiser at the time. "I wasn't aware of anything in it or on it," he replied.

In the opening speech, Mr Gillane said the court would hear that Mr Hutch's former co-accused and now State's witness Dowdall said Mr Hutch had said that he [Gerry Hutch] had been one of the team that shot Mr Byrne at the Regency Hotel.

Mr Byrne, from Crumlin, was shot dead at the hotel in Whitehall, Dublin 9 after five men, three disguised as armed gardaí in tactical clothing and carrying AK-47 assault rifles, stormed the building during the attack, which was hosting a boxing weigh-in at the time.

The victim was shot by two of the tactical assailants and further rounds were delivered to his head and body.

Mr Byrne died after suffering catastrophic injuries from six gunshots fired from a high-velocity weapon to the head, face, stomach, hand and legs.

Mr Hutch's two co-accused – Paul Murphy (59), of Cherry Avenue, Swords, Co Dublin, and Jason Bonney (50), of Drumnigh Wood, Portmarnock, Dublin 13 – have pleaded not guilty to participating in or contributing to the murder of Mr Byrne by providing access to motor vehicles on February 5th, 2016.

The evidence of the NSU members continues on Wednesday before Ms Justice Tara Burns, presiding, sitting with Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Grainne Malone.

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