Phones hold key to gun attack at Regency Hotel - but gardai braced for revenge attacks
Gardai follow trail of evidence left by gangland shooters
Published 28/02/2016 | 02:30
A cache of mobile phones and laptops seized during garda raids on lock-ups, family homes and properties linked to a north inner-city gang could provide key evidence on how the gun attack on the Regency Hotel in Dublin was orchestrated.
The phones were among hundreds of items recovered in the dawn raids conducted by 100 gardai on 11 homes and properties on Dublin's northside on Tuesday.
Forensic experts are hoping to retrieve deleted texts and track the location of calls in the days and hours leading to the attack on Friday, February 5.
The gun attack at the Regency Hotel was months in the planning, minutely orchestrated and involved at least a dozen people, gardai now believe.
The attack is linked to a bitter gangland feud between a drug cartel run by Christy Kinahan in Spain and a north inner-city gang, sparked by the murder of Gary Hutch, a nephew of the north inner-city suspected bank robber Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch, and has so far claimed three lives.
David Byrne, a key member of the Kinahan gang, was murdered in the Regency Hotel attack. Eddie Hutch, a brother of the Monk, was murdered in revenge three days later, even though he was an innocent taxi driver.
The mobile phones, which include untraceable ready-to-go phones, will be forensically analysed by experts who will attempt to retrieve deleted text messages and call data. Experts will use cell site analysis to determine where phones were in the run-up to and after the shootings.
The technology to retrieve wiped phone data was used successfully in the Graham Dwyer murder investigation.
The seized laptops will also be examined. Amongst other things, gardai will be looking for evidence of whether the north city gang attempted to hack into the Regency Hotel's CCTV system in advance of the attack, in an attempt to disable the record function.
Three weeks on from the hotel gun attacks, gardai investigating the murders of David Byrne and Eddie Hutch have established the suspects, the motive and abundant CCTV evidence.
But as one senior officer pointed out, there is a vast gulf to be bridged between assembling a list of suspects and solving a crime.
Meanwhile, armed patrols will remain on the streets for the near future in anticipation of further reprisals. "There will be a sequel. Whether it is played out here or in Spain is another matter," he said.
At least 12 associates of Gary Hutch are suspected of organising the Regency Hotel attack and detectives believe they know who they are. Of the six-man gang directly involved, two are clearly identifiable from CCTV footage and in press photographs that caught them fleeing the scene.
One is a north inner-city criminal who was close to Gary Hutch. He entered the hotel, disguised as an elderly woman, accompanied by a man in a flat cap.
They are seen on CCTV stopping porters to ask directions to the weigh-in. His cap-wearing accomplice is a former Provisional IRA gunman from Tyrone who left the organisation some years ago to align with dissident republicans.
Gardai suspect the three men armed with AK47s and disguised in garda ERU gear who stormed the hotel, minutes after their accomplices, are convicted criminals from Dublin. They believe the gunman who shot David Byrne as he tried to flee the hotel is a "gun for hire" who has been linked to a number of previous assassinations. A sixth gang member sat in a van outside the hotel, waiting for his accomplices.
A number of men known to be pals of Gary Hutch's associates were identified at the boxing weigh-in on the hotel's CCTV footage. Other suspects were caught on CCTV as they took up positions in the vicinity of the hotel, and the nearby Charlemont Estate. The gang's getaway car was torched at the housing estate and the gang was driven north by several waiting cars.
Gardai suspect the modified AK-47s once belonged to the IRA and may have been stolen by dissident factions after the ceasefire. How the Hutch associates got hold of them is another matter.
Suspicion has fallen on a former senior figure in the Provisional IRA who grew up in the north inner city and is a contemporary of several associates of the Hutch gang.
Gardai believe they also know the identities of the four gunmen who were involved in the reprisal attack on Eddie Hutch.
They are criminals from west Dublin. The main man in the gang is known as a gun-for-hire and gardai believe he has carried out "hits" for the Kinahan cartel. He was suspected of shooting the gangland figure John Gilligan, who survived the assassination attempt. Christopher Kinahan's son, Daniel, has been spotted in his company in some of his recent trips to Dublin.
- Both gangs left behind a significant trail of evidence in both shootings.
- Starting with the Regency Hotel attack, the hotel's CCTV footage has provided detectives with a vivid second-by-second record of everything that happened in the hotel during the 10-minute gun attack.
- The phones and laptops may provide other crucial evidence.
Meanwhile, the silver BMW getaway car used by four gunmen involved in the Eddie Hutch shooting was not stolen and has a traceable registration plate.
Gardai know who owns the car and are investigating the chain of events that led to it being used on an assassination mission.
The car has provided a further trove of evidence. The gang abandoned the car in Drumcondra, a short distance from Poplar Row. A bottle filled with petrol was left behind - evidence that the gang intended to torch the car.
Gardai suspect they were spooked by the armed patrols in the area and fled in haste.
Detectives have recovered DNA evidence from at least two balaclavas that were left in the car, which will provide incontrovertible evidence as to at least some of the gang members' identities.
Security sources remain on high alert for reprisals.
The gangs have retreated, for now, because of the heavy garda presence that accompanied the funerals of both men.
David Byrne was laid to rest under an around-the-clock garda presence - at his wake on Raleigh Road, at his funeral Mass in Crumlin and his burial in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
The Kinahan sons flew in from Spain to attend. Two days after he was buried, they got on a flight to London. They are said to be now laying low.
Gardai believe that Daniel Kinahan is the prime target of the Kinahan gang.
Their father, the drugs kingpin Christy Kinahan, surveyed the carnage from his multi-million euro retreat in Estepona.
Back in Dublin, Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch has also been warned about the threat on his life. As the murder of Eddie showed, other members of the well-known and expansive Hutch clan could also be at risk.
Gerry Hutch attended his brother's funeral in the north inner city in disguise. He deliberately stayed apart from his family during the service. He watched from the sidelines wearing a baseball hat, as armed gardai patrolled the periphery.
According to security sources, this is not a typical turf war over drugs, but a deeply personal feud.
A statement purporting to be issued on behalf of the Hutch family two weeks ago underlined how personal the feud was. The statement to a Sunday newspaper claimed they had paid €200,000 to the Kinahan cartel to ensure that Gary would not be murdered.
"We shook hands and agreed to walk way. Gary was then murdered for no reason. You cannot trust these people."
The statement claimed the Kinahans came after them for another €200,000, attempted to kill Gerry Hutch on several occasions and "terrorised" the family.