Regency trial | 

Nicola Tallant: ‘Gerry Hutch must be mortified at his portrayal in the bugged trial recordings’

Those who know him, and many who remain loyal to this day, fear him — but more importantly, they revere him.

Armed gardaí outside the Criminal Courts of Justice©

Nicola TallantSunday Independent

Silent and brooding, The Monk sat with headphones perched over his ears and listened intently to his own voice as it rang out across the Special Criminal Court.

Gerry Hutch didn’t show it, but he must have been cringing inside as reporters, gardaí, lawyers, three judges and members of the public heard the unedited conversation that helped land him in the dock for murder.

It’s almost seven years since he took that car journey with Jonathan Dowdall to Northern Ireland to meet with paramilitary groups he believed could tame the Kinahan mafia and mediate a peace deal with them.

It was March 2016, and The Monk was a desperate man.

With a €1m bounty on his head, he had just buried his brother, Neddy, shot by a Kinahan hit team on the doorstep of his inner-city Dublin home. He knew more would follow if he didn’t show a strong hand and end the feud swiftly.

The ill-fated Regency Hotel attack just weeks before had upended the very foundations of the carefully balanced criminal underworld like never before, but what Hutch didn’t realise was that the storm clouds were still only gathering.

Gerry Hutch

Knowing now what happened in the aftermath of the trip north — the David versus Goliath feud that engulfed the capital, the slaughter of his relatives and friends and the betrayal by Dowdall who that day told him “I’m in this with ye to the bleedin’ death” — it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for The Monk.

Gerry Hutch is a proud man with a carefully cultivated image as a master criminal with rat-like cunning. For decades he has enjoyed a reputation of being a cut above his contemporaries — an ordinary decent criminal with a brain for planning and a heart of gold when it comes to his people.

Last week must have been tough.

Hindsight gives us an unfair advantage as we sit in the Toyota Land Cruiser with Hutch, eavesdropping on his chats with Dowdall.

We know the Kinahan organised crime group is a monster, fearless in the face of the once all-powerful Provisional IRA, and with never-ending funds to buy loyalty with blood money.

We listen to the confidence of Hutch as he talks of Daniel Kinahan folding to the power of the “Northern Command”, of him handing up six of his hitmen so The Monk can save face and of the “clueless” gardaí who will never work out who was behind the Regency attack.

Armed gardaí outside the Criminal Courts of Justice©

He laments the days gone by when criminals could talk and work out their problems, when there were ways of punishing people other than with bullets. “There has to be mediation for bleedin’ sake… It’s the heartache that’s left behind,” he says.

People are coming to him all the time, he tells Dowdall, saying they don’t want to get involved in the feud, but the Kinahans have swamped Dublin with “pieces” (guns) and are trying to set him up.

“I can’t go back,” he says. “We don’t want any innocent c***s getting shot.”

It’s strange hearing Hutch with his guard down, unaware his every word is being recorded.

I remember well the first time I realised how much value he placed on the court of public opinion.

I was just a young reporter and my contact was a senior figure in Dublin’s underworld.

We’d been chatting about something completely different, but he’d managed to steer our conversation to his pal.

“Do something for me Nicola… If you’re writing about Gerard, make sure you say he has no involvement with drugs and he works hard, unlike them criminals in the Dáil.”

“Eh, OK,” I stuttered, not really sure what I was agreeing to. It didn’t take me long to realise that, just like elected representatives, criminals have lobbyists too.

The Monk has always stood out.

Gerry Hutch

Even as a young main he was noted for his intelligence, his military precision in planning and his reputation as a Robin Hood character who would take from the rich and give to the poor.

Those who know him, and many who remain loyal to this day, fear him — but more importantly, they revere him.

He is a complex character. He loathes celebrity, yet he is one. He trusts few, yet he has been betrayed by many.

He is a family man who avoids violence, yet the State says he is a cold-hearted killer.

The first time I saw him in the dock of the Special Criminal Court he was tanned in a leathery way, having just been brought back from Spain on a European Arrest Warrant.

In the months since, his skin has whitened — and the beige linen suit has been replaced with a navy one more suitable for an Irish winter.

But he is still distinctive enough not to disappoint those who travel to the court by bus or train. Some come alone.

Others travel in groups, like the retired members of Howth Yacht Club who dropped in one day.

Some call it the trial of the century — and for the prosecution, headed by Sean Gillane SC, the pressure is on. Journalists line the media benches typing, scribbling and noting down every expression, every stray glance.

Co-accused Jason Bonney and Paul Murphy must know they aren’t the stars of the show, but they sit shoulder to shoulder with Hutch as his defence team fights for his freedom.

​The Monk seems comfortable in the dock, unfazed by the circus of lawyers, gardaí, reporters, prison guards and voyeurs who gather as his murder trial enters its seventh week.

Outside the court, taxi drivers join the chorus as they lament that “Gerry” has reached the end of the road.

But inside the Special Criminal Court the battle lines are being drawn — and Hutch and his team are far from beaten.

Jason Bonney

This week the court is expected to rule on the admissibility of the tapes that were played last week.

The defence say they can’t be considered because the recordings were largely made while the car was travelling in the North with a tracker fitted. This means, says Brendan Grehan SC, that they are not legal.

It was Justice Tara Burns, in charge of the three-judge court, who ruled the tapes should be played before the two sides argue whether they can be included in the State’s case.

Such is the power of the Special Criminal Court, where there is no jury, and where many of the usual rules don’t apply as the judiciary cannot be influenced.

The tapes are gold dust. They provide a window on the criminal underworld and its power structures.

They reveal an instant when everything seems to topple, when the Provos are no longer the controlling entity at the top of the criminal ladder.

The conversations have been heard, and while the judges can work out whether they can be used, for most, their content cannot be unheard. They leave behind so much to unravel and so much to consider.

There is fallout for many — not only those named as criminals and subversives.

There is the talk of Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and the criticism of how she took money and votes from the north inner city but failed to stand united with her people as they came under attack.

There are Sinn Féin representatives who quizzed Dowdall about his background and became suspicious of his past.

There is the remark by Hutch that Gerry Adams should negotiate an agreement between the Kinahan and Hutch mobs.

There are the comments by the now state witness Dowdall that Hutch should be pushing for an eye for an eye, a brother for a brother, and that people should die.

There is the implication that Dowdall has control of bombs or their components and will use them to barter with the IRA — yet he is now on the taxpayer-funded witness protection programme, along with his family.

Some would suggest the recordings mark the end of the glittering criminal career of The Monk. At times he sounds old, his hearing is failing and he seems dated, making references to “Blue Peter badges” and “1970s bank robberies”.

It’s funny, ironic, almost Tarantino-like when Dowdall asks him if he ever considered buying a scanner for bugs.

“No,” he replies in his heavy Dublin accent. “Coz ye’d need a man with it. Ye need an expert to work it.”

Despite the hours and hours of recordings, the talk of gangland war, of targets and “yokes”, which the State says are the AK47s used in the Regency attack, The Monk commits to little — and he certainly doesn’t admit any guilt regarding the murder of David Byrne. There could be life in the old Monk yet.

The trial continues.

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