Saturday 20 October 2018

Regency murder trial: Phone, laptop and USB devices being analysed as part of inquiry into death of investigating garda

Patrick Hutch: denies murder of David Byrne
Patrick Hutch: denies murder of David Byrne

Andrew Phelan

THE trial of Regency Hotel gun murder accused Patrick Hutch has been delayed again so a mobile phone, laptop computer and two USB devices can be analysed as part of an inquiry into the death of the lead investigating garda.

The case, which has been before the non-jury Special Criminal Court for the last six months, was adjourned again this morning for another three weeks.

The trial has been stalled for months after an inquiry was launched into the circumstances surrounding the death in February of Det Supt Colm Fox.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding in the three-judge court, granted the latest adjournment after hearing an "extensive" interim report on the inquiry was available and could be given to the defence.

Mr Hutch (25) of Champions Avenue in the north inner city, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of David Byrne (34) at the Regency Hotel in Dublin on February 5, 2016.

He also denies possessing three AK47 assault rifles.

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 is 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.

Today, prosecutor Sean Gillane SC said as the court had been aware there was an investigation ongoing into the circumstances, causes and consequences of Det Supt Fox’s death.

This was at a “very advanced stage” involving a significant amount of documentation, statements being taken and analysis of electronic devices.

There were “some outstanding matters” in relation to the electronic devices that related to two USB devices, a mobile phone and a laptop computer.

Assistance was required from external sources - the manufacturer -  to gain access to the phone, Mr Gillane said.

An interim report had been prepared which was very extensive, he had been through it and supporting documentation and the final report would take three months, until the end of September.

Mr Gillane proposed disclosing the interim report and background information to the defence team and that could be done by this Wednesday, he said.

Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, said he thought this was “sensible” as the defence would know “where we are at the moment.”

Mr Justice Hunt said if nothing else it would keep things as speedy as possible if the defence could be put in the picture.

The case was adjourned to July 30.

Today’s adjournment is the seventh since the court ruled admissible photo evidence purporting to identify Mr Hutch as having been at the scene.

This latest delay comes after notes were handed in to court in February that were “authored by” the late Det Supt Fox.

Mr O’Higgins said at that stage it would be “safer” to adjourn the trial until an investigation was concluded into the circumstances surrounding his death. This was extended by another 12 weeks in March.

Starting on January 11, there have been four days of evidence in the trial and five days of legal argument in which the defence objected to the identification evidence being admitted.

Detective Gardai Fergal O’Flaherty and Jonathan Brady said they had identified Patrick Hutch as being the man in a wig in a press photograph taken at the scene. Det Sgt Patrick O’Toole had brought them to a room for the identification, which was manned by Garda Michael Ryan.

All four said Det Gdai 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 their evidence was false or that there was any collusion between them to wrongly identify Mr Hutch.

The court ruled the photo evidence was admissible, saying the court was satisfied that both Det Gda O'Flaherty and Det Gda Brady had identified the person on the screen as Mr Hutch, but had done so separately from each other and there was "no basis of contamination by nomination".

However, before the trial could resume in February, the defence sought disclosure of e-mails between the four gardai involved.

Mr O’Higgins 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.

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

On Saturday, February 10 Det Supt Colm Fox was found dead in Ballymun Garda Station. His official firearm was recovered at the scene, foul play was not suspected and it was treated as a personal tragedy.Three days later, Judge Hunt adjourned the case again after being told of the tragedy.

On February, 19, Mr O’Higgins said new material had been provided which the defence needed more time to consider. The material had presented “unprecedented conundrums” for the prosecution, the court heard.

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