Monday 18 November 2019

Ex-Sinn Fein councillor jailed for torturing man must wait to hear outcome of sentence appeal

Jonathan Dowdall (top) and Alex Hurley (below)
Jonathan Dowdall (top) and Alex Hurley (below)

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A former Sinn Féin Councillor jailed along with his father, for torturing a man he suspected of trying to defraud him, must wait to hear the outcome of appeals against their sentences.

Jonathan Dowdall (39), with an address on the Navan Road, Dublin 7 and his father Patrick Dowdall (62), of the same address, had both pleaded guilty at the non-jury Special Criminal Court to falsely imprisoning Alexander Hurley and threatening to kill him at Jonathan's family home on January 15th, 2015.

Footage recorded on a mobile phone was shown to the court of Jonathan Dowdall wearing a balaclava and holding a tea-towel to the man's face before pouring water over his head. Patrick Dowdall was heard threatening to pull off his fingers one-by-one with a pliers.

Jonathan Dowdall was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and Patrick Dowdall eight years imprisonment by the three-judge court on June 1 , 2017.

The Dowdalls moved to appeal their sentences in the Court of Appeal today where judgment was reserved. The three-judge court was shown video footage of the incident at the outset of the hearing.

Counsel for Jonathan Dowdall, Michael O'Higgins SC, said it was an “appalling piece of footage” and his client had put before the court “the most serious and grovelling of apologies”.

Mr O'Higgins said the person on the screen was clearly Jonathan Dowdall but that was not the sort of person he was.

He said Jonathan Dowdall grew up in “very, very difficult” circumstances. He met his partner at the age of 15 and they had been together 20 years. He set up a business as an electrician in 2007 at a time when the economy was collapsing and yet he made it into a successful company with “blue chip” clients. They gave references and testimonies for him which spoke of the quality of his work, his enthusiasm and, “almost, perfection”.

Jonathan Dowdall
Jonathan Dowdall

He said Jonathan Dowdall was “on the edge in many respects”, suffering from depression and anxiety. He was over-committed in his work as a local councillor.

His business was running every hour it was sent but his bank overdraft was critical. That's why he became “obsessed” with his bank details allegedly being in the possession of the injured party, Mr O'Higgins said.

Jonathan Dowdall was sitting at home when the “criminal” came to him, counsel said. As a result, he was “picking up the biggest bill of his life”.

He said the complainant had come to Jonathan Dowdall's house posing as a barrister, with a business profile on LinkedIn that adopted the Law Library logo.

That was the uncomfortable background to the offence, and it wasn't put forward as a justification but a rationalisation of what happened.

Mr O'Higgins said the Special Criminal Court placed too much emphasis on the video, which skewed the outcome, resulting in a substantial error in the sentence.

He submitted that the headline sentence of 14 years was “grossly excessive” and the two year discount from that for the guilty plea and other mitigating factors wasn't enough.

He asked whether it was appropriate to devote 10 lines of the court's judgment to his client's mitigating factors when the court was going to send him to jail for 12 years. It was only the most “cursory recording” of all that Jonathan Dowdall had going for him in mitigation, which was a lot.

Mr O'Higgins said a sentence hearing had taken place in May but a subsequent “Newton hearing” was necessary to resolve factual conflicts

It was an unavoidable fact, Mr O'Higgins said, that the injured party's credibility was damaged “long before any question was asked by me” and the Special Criminal Court seemed to penalise his client for seeking to resolve certain factual conflicts.

Counsel for Patrick Dowdall, Michael Bowman SC, said he adopted Mr O'Higgins' submissions in so far as they related to him.

Alex Hurley. Photo: Sunday World
Alex Hurley. Photo: Sunday World

Mr Bowman said Patrick Dowdall saw before his eyes the capacity for his son's business to collapse. The concern was real but he never at any stage sought to minimise what he did.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Vincent Heneghan SC, said the incident didn't border on torture, it was “actual torture”.

Mr Heneghan said the sentence was “almost textbook” in how it followed the dicta set down for sentencing. The court identified a headline sentence, set out the aggravating factors, the mitigating factors and then passed sentence.

He said it was an unusual sentence because very few of these types of cases come before the courts.

Reserving judgment, Mr Justice Alan Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards, and Mr Justice John Hedigan, said the court's ambition was to deliver its decision in April.

The first of three clips, from January 12th 2015, showed Mr Hurley trying on motorcycle gear in the Dowdalls' garage.

In the second and third clips, from some days later, Mr Hurley was seen bound to a swivel-chair in the garage. The swivel-chair had been pushed to its side and Mr Hurley's head was on the floor.

The video showed Jonathan Dowdall hold a tea-towel over Mr Hurley's face and pour a bucket of water over his head.

The former councillor repeatedly asked Mr Hurley, "What were you going to do with my bank details?"

Mr Hurley said that he had applied for a loan.

Jonathan Dowdall said, "I'm going to cut you up piece-by-piece."

"Please don't hurt me," Mr Hurley said.

The court then saw Jonathan Dowdall use an electric razor to shave Mr Hurley's head. He asked again, "What were you doing with my bank details?"

He told Mr Hurley, "It's all over Facebook you're one of the biggest conmen going."

Jonathan Dowdall held Mr Hurley down and poured another bucket of water over his head.

Later, the swivel-chair was lifted up.

Patrick Dowdall was heard saying, "I'm going to start with the little one and work my way up to your thumbs."

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