Regency trial | 

How the data from tracker on jeep Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch allegedly travelled in came to be destroyed

NSU members had claimed privilege over the existence of a tracking device being used on Dowdall’s car when it was under surveillance.

Charges: Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch is on trial for the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Dublin in 2016. Photo: PA


The focus of the Regency Hotel murder trial shifted this week to a tracking device that was placed on Jonathan Dowdall’s 4x4 in the weeks after the shooting.

It emerged in court that all records for the tracker held at the Garda’s National Surveillance Unit (NSU) were destroyed just months before the trial got under way.

The data, it was said, is “gone forevermore”, with no possibility of recreating the destroyed records.

The three judges were told the defence’s concerns around the tracking device were related to bugged conversations recorded in Northern Ireland that were outside the remit of the Surveillance Act.

NSU members had claimed privilege over the existence of a tracking device being used on Dowdall’s car when it was under surveillance.

However, retired Detective Inspector William Hanrahan confirmed on Monday that the device had in fact been placed on the Land Cruiser. He said the Special Detective Unit (SDU) which deals with terrorism was investigating the movements of firearms and explosives of the IRA.

The use of the tracker was probed further by the defence over the following days.

The former head of the NSU, retired Det-Supt William Johnson, said he authorised the use of a device on Dowdall’s vehicle.

He also made an application 36 hours later to the District Court for the deployment of a bugging device on foot of information that the Land Cruiser was being used by Dowdall and members of a criminal gang.

The non-jury court heard intelligence also suggested that Jonathan Dowdall travelled to Derry exactly a month before the murder to meet with a Real IRA member, and on January 18, 2016, travelled to Derry again, this time in the company of Gerry Hutch.

He also testified that on February 12, the men met at Dowdall’s home, allegedly as part of an organised crime gang relating to the murder of David Byrne at the hotel.

Senior counsel Brendan Grehan, defending Mr Hutch, said they had only been informed earlier this week that records for the device had been destroyed “in the currency” of the trial. The person who authorised the destruction on February 7, retired Det-Supt Ciaran Hoey, was called to give evidence on Wednesday.

He had made the initial request to deploy the tracking and logging device on the grounds that they could be used to investigate and possibly prevent an arrestable offence.

Over the course of a number of hours, it was revealed how a decision was taken to destroy records without consulting the investigation team or the prosecution.

Mr Hoey said he took over from William Johnson, and in early 2020 he carried out a review of all information kept at the NSU to ensure they were in compliance with the Surveillance Act of 2009.

The destruction order, he said, related to documents for the approval and the data that emanated from the tracking device.

Mr Hoey said he asked his admin staff to destroy all records and wasn’t aware of any copies. The defence counsel pointed out there was a copy in front of him, with the witness saying he did not know the provenance of the document.

He said he was in compliance with the Act, which required him to keep the documents for at least three years, or until they were no longer required in a prosecution or appeal.

The witness said he did not believe they would be used as evidence because he had not been asked, that they were not in the book of evidence, and because it had never been done before.

The former head of the NSU said this was normally done through garda witnesses and CCTV evidence. It was a point the retired senior detective repeated several times from the witness box.

The defence counsel put it to him that evidence from gardaí only covered surveillance in this jurisdiction, whereas evidence from the tracker covers movements outside it.

He was then asked a series of questions, including whether the admin staff he consulted about the destruction were lawyers, and whether he spoke with the investigation team, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), or the senior investigating officer (SIO) beforehand.

“No” was the response each time.

A clearly frustrated defence counsel said he was “at a loss to understand” why not. Mr Hoey said it was his “firm belief” that the data could not be used in evidence.

During the cross-examination it also emerged that the Assistant Commissioner for Crime and Security signed off on the destruction order last March 23.

On that day a total of 87 orders were signed off on, with information provided on a spreadsheet relating to relevant dates and details of the vehicle being tracked.

The retired detective said he did not make his superior aware that the trial was proceeding, nor that the vehicle related to Jonathan Dowdall or Gerry Hutch. Asked if she should have been alerted to the fact the records may be pertinent to the trial, Mr Hoey said it “wouldn’t make sense for me to alert her to something that didn’t alert me”.

At the end of a number of hours of cross-examination, the witness maintained his position, saying “I fail to see and still fail to see” how there could have been a “prized piece of evidence” on the device.

The Assistant Commissioner for Crime and Security, Orla McPartlin, is due to be called on Monday.

Gerry Hutch (59) denies the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Dublin on February 5, 2016. Two co-defendants, Jason Bonney and Paul Murphy, are accused of helping the criminal organisation responsible by providing cars used to drive the assailants away after the shooting.

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