Saturday 23 March 2019

Regency Hotel murder trial of Patrick Hutch collapses a year after it began

  • High profile but long-stalled case dropped by the State
  • Follows the death of senior investigating garda
  • Patrick Hutch had been on trial for the murder of David Byrne
Two men, one disguised as a woman and both carrying handguns, flee the scene of David Byrne's murder. Photo: Sunday World
Two men, one disguised as a woman and both carrying handguns, flee the scene of David Byrne's murder. Photo: Sunday World

Andrew Phelan and Conor Feehan

PATRICK HUTCH has walked free from the Special Criminal Court after charges against him for the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in Dublin were dropped by the State.

Prosecutors this morning asked for a "nolle prosequi" to be entered on all charges, bringing to an end the high profile but long-stalled gangland trial.

Relatives of David Byrne, the man who was shot dead in the raid, shouted in court that the collapse of the trial was a "disgrace" and that the gardai were "afraid of the Hutches."

Mr Hutch (26) of Champions Avenue, Dublin 1, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr Byrne (34) at the Regency Hotel in Dublin on February 5th 2016.

Patrick Hutch Jnr
Patrick Hutch Jnr

The three-judge, non-jury Special Criminal Court heard that the shooting took place during a boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel. A man dressed as a woman and another wearing a flat cap, armed with handguns, followed by three people dressed in tactical-style garda uniforms, carrying assault rifles, raided the venue.

It was the State’s case that Mr Hutch was the man dressed as a woman and that, although he did not shoot Mr Byrne, he was part of a "shared intention" to commit the offence.

February 5, 2016: A photograph taken outside the Regency Hotel in Dublin just moments before raiders in disguise entered the hotel. One man died and two others were injured in the shooting incident.
February 5, 2016: A photograph taken outside the Regency Hotel in Dublin just moments before raiders in disguise entered the hotel. One man died and two others were injured in the shooting incident.

Mr Hutch had also denied possessing three AK47 assault rifles in connection with the shooting.

After the charges were dropped this morning, Mr Hutch left the court by a side entrance and got on to a waiting motorbike.

The case was before the non-jury Special Criminal Court for more than a year but had been halted for an inquiry to be carried out into the tragic death of senior investigating garda, Det Supt Colm Fox.

There were repeated adjournments since February 2018, when notes “authored by” the late Det Supt Fox were handed in to court.

The trial had been expected  to resume next month, but instead the prosecution will not now proceed.

The shooting happened during a boxing weigh-in, when a man dressed as a woman and another wearing a flat cap, armed with handguns, followed by a “tactical team of three men disguised as gardai with assault rifles, stormed the hotel.

It was the prosecution's case that Mr Hutch was the man dressed as a woman and that he did not shoot Mr Byrne but was part of a "shared intention" to commit the offence.

Up to 10 public order unit gardai were on duty in the Special Criminal Court itself before the case got underway.

David Byrne, who was shot six times and suffered ‘catastrophic injuries’
David Byrne, who was shot six times and suffered ‘catastrophic injuries’
The Regency Hotel

Member of Mr Byrne’s family, including his parents James and Sadie Byrne sat in the court’s public gallery waiting for proceedings to start.

Dressed in a grey suit and open-necked pink shirt, Mr Hutch was brought into court the case was called.

Prosecuting barrister Sean Gillane SC then addressed the three judges, outlining the last year’s proceedings.

“Sadly, the passing of Det Supt Colm Fox has resulted in a situation where the prosecution is not in a position to lead evidence on a number of evidential topics," Mr Gillane said.

“My application is to have a nolle prosequi entered,” he added.

Mr Hutch’s barrister Michael O’Higgins SC said: “I am not resisting the application and have very little to add other than to say that my client had pleaded not guilty, the case was very keenly contested and if it had gone to trial the same course would have been pursued.”

“In light of the application not being opposed, further comment is not necessary and I will discharge Mr Hutch from the indictment,” presiding judge, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said.

Mr Byrne’s mother Sadie Byrne then addressed the court, asking: “can I say something please?”

Judge Hunt said he understood it was “very upsetting” for her, but she continued to ask to speak and the three judges rose.

Another member of Mr Byrne’s family then began shouting: “It’s a disgrace, it’s a disgrace, it’s an absolute farce, this trial.”

“Where is the justice in this Ireland? Nobody wants to know.”

She said the gardai could not solve this case but could solve others.

“Yous are afraid of the Hutches, that is what you are,” another woman said, adding that she was “absolutely disgusted.”

It was a trial that became mired in delays almost from the outset.

When it began on January 11, 2018 the trial was expected to last less than two weeks and just four days of evidence were actually heard before a five-day legal argument phase got underway.

The arguments centred on the admissibility of evidence in which Detective Gardai Fergal O’Flaherty and Jonathan Brady said they had identified the accused Patrick Hutch as the gunman dressed as a woman in a press photograph taken at the scene of the attack.

For the identification, Det Sgt Patrick O’Toole had brought them to a room at Ballymun Garda Station, which was manned by Garda Michael Ryan.

All four said Det Gda O’Flaherty and Brady named Mr Hutch separately while the defence claimed there was evidence they did so in each other’s presence, which could have compromised their identifications.

It was denied by the prosecution and the witnesses that there was any collusion between them to wrongly identify Mr Hutch.

On February 2, Judge Hunt ruled the evidence was admissible, saying the court was satisfied  that both Det Gda O'Flaherty and Det Gda Brady had separately identified the person in the photo as Mr Hutch, and there was "no basis of contamination by nomination".

The trial was due to resume the following Monday, February 5, 2018 but the defence said they were looking for “specific things” from the prosecution and it was adjourned.

Two days later, on February 7, the court was told what was being sought was disclosure of e-mails between four gardai involved in the case.

“This is all very mysterious and elliptical,” Judge Hunt remarked at the time.

Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, explained an issue had arisen in relation to garda statements, matters that were omitted and new statements that came together and “hit every single note on the scale."

He had made a case in legal argument that the statements were a “blatant and obvious cog from one to the other”, which was not accepted by the prosecution.

Mr O'Higgins said he was looking for material in relation to “contact they may have had with regard to those statements.”

Three days after that, on Saturday, February 10, 2018 senior investigator in the case Det Supt Colm Fox was found dead at Ballymun Garda Station. His official firearm was recovered at the scene, foul play was not suspected and it was treated as a personal tragedy.

The following Tuesday, February 13, Judge Hunt adjourned the case again after being told of Det Sgt Fox’s death.

On February, 19, 2018 Mr O’Higgins said new material had been provided which he needed more time to consider. The material had presented “unprecedented conundrums” for the prosecution, Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, said.

At that stage, Mr O’Higgins said the defence would probably be seeking an "outright adjournment" and retrial as enquiries into the “new material” that had come to light would take too long for a postponement to be practical.

However, on February 22, that postponement happened when Mr Gillane handed up Det Supt Colm Fox’s notes and said it would now be “safer” for the court to wait until an investigation into his tragic death is completed.

For the remainder of 2018, there were more adjournments as the prosecution kept the three-judge court updated on the progress of the investigation.

On July 9, the court heard a mobile phone, laptop computer and two USB devices were being analysed as part of the inquiry, which also included “a significant amount” of documentation and statements.

The investigation concluded late last year and the trial had been listed to resume this March.

A nolle prosequi occurs when a problem arises with the evidence in a case and the DPP decides not to pursue a prosecution. 

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News