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Evidence from garda identifying Patrick Hutch may be 'compromised by press coverage', court told

David Byrne was shot dead at the Regency Hotel in north Dublin on 5 February 2016.

The Regency Hotel, Drumcondra, pictured on 5 February 2016, the day of the shooting
The Regency Hotel, Drumcondra, pictured on 5 February 2016, the day of the shooting
Image: Sasko Lazarov

EVIDENCE FROM A garda about how two detectives identified Patrick Hutch as the man dressed as a woman, holding a gun outside the Regency Hotel on the day of a fatal shooting might have been “compromised” by press coverage of the trial, a barrister has told the Special Criminal Court.

Hutch, 25, of Champions Avenue, Dublin 1, is pleading not guilty to the murder of David Byrne, 34, at the Regency Hotel in Dublin on 5 February 2016.

He also denies possessing three AK47 assault rifles in connection with the shooting.

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

The shooting took place, the court has heard, during a boxing weigh-in at the hotel, when the man dressed as a woman and another wearing a flat cap, armed with handguns, followed by three people dressed in tactical-style garda uniforms and carrying assault rifles, raided the venue.

The defence is objecting to evidence that two detectives identified Hutch as the man dressed as a woman after they had looked at the picture, which had been taken by a photographer contracted to the Sunday World, who was at the hotel to cover the weigh-in.

The evidence is, therefore, being heard in voir dire – or a ‘trial within a trial’ – to help the judges determine its admissibility.

Michael O’Higgins SC, representing the accused, said today that a state witness, the garda who showed the picture to the detectives, could have been influenced by press coverage of the trial.

The witness’ evidence may have been “compromised”, he said, adding that it was “unusual” for the press to report “wholesale” on a legal matter.

He mentioned a report from the Irish Independent, published on 17 January, which described how the detectives, Fergal O’Flaherty and Jonathan Brady, had made the identification.

The barrister said his concern was that the witness had seen the report and now knew exactly what the issues with the evidence were.

Yesterday, Garda Michael Ryan had been asked to make a statement on what had happened when the detectives identified the accused man in the photo.

The defence is disputing the evidence from gardaí on how Hutch was identified.

Today, Garda Ryan, of Ballymun Garda Station, told prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane SC that two days after the fatal shooting, Detectives O’Flaherty and Brady went to his office and viewed the photo.

The court heard that while Detective Garda Brady was in the room Detective Garda O’Flaherty looked at the picture and said he recognised the person on the left but did not name him.

He said that Detective Garda O’Flaherty then left the office and was not in the room when Detective Garda Brady viewed the image and identified Hutch.

Under cross-examination, O’Higgins asked the witness if there was any doubt that when Detective Garda Brady looked at the picture, Detective Garda O’Flaherty was outside the room.

“None whatsoever,” Garda Ryan replied.

O’Higgins suggested to the witness that he was “terribly confused” about what happened that evening.

“I don’t believe that is the case,” Garda Ryan said.

The barrister suggested that Detective Brady had made his identification in front of Detective O’Flaherty.

“That is not what happened,” the witness said.

O’Higgins noted that during a bail hearing in 2016, Detective Brady’s account of the evening was that he had looked at the picture, said he knew who the person was, then said the name and Detective O’Flaherty said the same.

Garda Ryan said that Detective Garda O’Flaherty had left the room before Detective Brady stepped in.

Earlier, the barrister had read to the witness the report from the Irish Independent describing the detectives making the identification separately.

“Did you read that?” O’Higgins asked.

“If it was two days ago in the Independent, I would have read that,” Garda Ryan said.

He later added: “I would read pretty much all the articles in the app. I would safely say that I did.”

When asked if the report had made any “impression” on him, the garda said that he had read all the articles on the RTE, TheJournal.ie and the Irish Independent apps.

The trial resumes on Monday in front of Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge Patricia Ryan and Judge Ann Ryan.

Read: Regency shooting: Witness was ‘relieved’ to see ‘Garda’ arrive, until ‘he aimed his gun and shot a person’

More: Regency murder accused handed fresh charges of possessing AK-47s

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Daniel Hickey

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