News Irish News

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Tragic garda felt 'huge pressure' over Regency trial

DPP facing calls to reveal reasons for controversial collapse of trial to family of victim David Byrne

Personal tragedy: Det Supt Colm Fox
Personal tragedy: Det Supt Colm Fox

Shane Phelan and Cormac McQuinn

The lead detective in the Regency Hotel murder investigation felt he was under "massive pressure" in relation to the case, according to an informed source.

Detective Superintendent Colm Fox, who was found dead in tragic circumstances last year, was said to be concerned about the level of support he was receiving and also in relation to the strength of the evidence against suspect Patrick Hutch.

The revelation comes as calls mount for a fuller explanation of the reasons for the collapse of the trial of Mr Hutch on Wednesday. A number of politicians have suggested the DPP should provide an explanation to the family of murder victim David Byrne.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is expected to face questions on the trial during a meeting with the Policing Authority next week.

A Garda review to determine what lessons can be learned has been requested by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

A separate inquiry into the death of Det Supt Fox by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) could also shed further light on the circumstances leading up to the collapse of the trial.

Entrance: Raiders disguised as gardaí armed with AK47 assault rifles enter the front door of the Regency Hotel
Entrance: Raiders disguised as gardaí armed with AK47 assault rifles enter the front door of the Regency Hotel

It is believed notes written by the late detective are to be requested by the Gsoc team.

The trial was adjourned for a lengthy period while the circumstances surrounding his death were investigated by gardaí. No foul play was suspected and the matter was treated as a personal tragedy.

"Colm Fox was an excellent investigator but he was feeling massive pressure in relation to the Regency," an informed source said.

"He was concerned about support and the robustness of the evidence against Patrick Hutch. He didn't want to let the Byrne family or his colleagues down, and this added to the pressure he was under."

Mr Byrne's murder was part of the vicious Hutch-Kinahan gangland feud, which has claimed the lives of 18 people.

His mother Sadie said the family received "no reason, no explanation" for the decision to discontinue the trial.

Counsel for the DPP explained in court that the decision related to the death of Det Supt Fox, which meant it was "not in a position to lead evidence on a range of evidential issues". It is believed the "evidential issues" related to defence concerns over the manner in which Mr Hutch was identified as a suspect.

However, this was not clarified in court.

During the early stages of the trial, it emerged two gardaí identified Mr Hutch as the gunman photographed leaving the murder scene wearing a woman's wig. They said they identified him independently of each other, but the defence suggested they were in each other's company.

This prompted a denial from the prosecution that there had been collusion.

The court heard an estimated 500 gardaí were asked to look at the photograph but these were the only two who identified Mr Hutch.

Following legal argument, the court ruled the identification evidence was admissible, but the defence was told it could revisit the issue later in the trial. On February 7 last year the trial was delayed when the defence sought copies of emails between four gardaí to see if they had been in contact with each other regarding their statements.

Three days later, Det Supt Fox was found dead at Ballymun garda station.

It is understood he left behind correspondence in which he said he made a "grave error of judgment".

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan said the DPP could explain to the family of Mr Byrne why the trial did not continue.

He told the Irish Independent the Garda Commissioner should also provide to the Policing Authority the information that came to light since the trial was adjourned.

"These steps could be taken even if it is not possible to put that information into the public domain," said Mr O'Callaghan. "I am conscious that because of the circumstances of the death of Det Supt Fox and out of respect for his family, it may not be possible to put all relevant information into the public domain."

Labour justice spokesman Seán Sherlock said that while investigative processes had to be respected, "the public do need answers, given in public, as to what happened".

"Both the Policing Authority and the Gsoc investigation have to yield answers including why the prosecution did not proceed."

In a statement, Mr Flanagan said relatives of victims of crime can ask the DPP for reasons for a decision not to prosecute.

However, it is unclear if this also applies in cases where charges are withdrawn during a trial. A query to the Office of the DPP was not responded to.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News