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Jonathan Dowdall

Dowdall was 'duped', put in 'firing line' for Regency attack, his lawyers tell Court of Appeal

Jonathan Dowdall is appealing his four-year sentence for facilitating the murder of David Byrne.

FORMER SINN FEIN councillor Jonathan Dowdall, who was jailed for facilitating the murder of Kinahan cartel member David Byrne, was “duped” and put in the “firing line” for the Regency Hotel attack, his lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.

Appealing the severity of his four-year sentence, Michael O’Higgins SC, for Dowdall, told the three-judge court today that while the State may say the room at the Regency hotel in Dublin was part of the “launching pad” for the murder of Mr Byrne, he would submit it was the “launching pad for a contrived event plan of disinformation, which was put together in a way where my client was left front and centre”.

During the investigation, gardaí established the person using the room in the Regency was Kevin Murray, who had had known paramilitary connections with the IRA. Murray was very visible over the course of the day on CCTV footage and walked around the hotel freely, while during the attack he was seen on CCTV footage with a handgun held aloft.

During Dowdall’s sentence hearing, O’Higgins submitted that Murray was there to attract attention on the basis that investigating gardaí would be misdirected in a paramilitary direction.

Court of Appeal president Mr Justice George Birmingham said that when he first read the appellant’s submissions, his first reaction was that Dowdall had done “extraordinarily well” and asked should he as a judge be drawing attention “to the range of options open”.

The judge pointed out that there were “elements of unreality” about some of the arguments advanced in the submissions. “This is a person who pleaded guilty to an offence and someone who came before the court having been convicted of a very serious offence in the past and had served a substantial sentence. Could he have had any expectation of doing better than he did?” asked the judge.

Mr Justice Birmingham went on to remark that a major issue was that the decisions taken by the appellant were going to have an effect not only on himself but also his family and that the sentencing court had been very conscious of that by making “unusual discounts and additional discounts”.

Other grounds of appeal included that Dowdall wasn’t “a time waster or a tyre kicker”, was subjected to up to 10 days of cross-examination by counsel during the murder trial of Gerard ‘the Monk’ Hutch and to his credit “went through that process”.

“A person who wants to cross that Rubicon should be aware that court’s recognise the huge and significant life changes that flow from that,” he added.

Turning State’s witness

O’Higgins argued that the Special Criminal Court had weighed the consequences of how Dowdall’s life was going to change on becoming State’s witness “with a blindfold”, that the sentencing court didn’t hear the specifics and did not know what the future held for his client.

Counsel also noted that Dowdall should have been entitled to a 30% discount for his guilty plea instead of a 25% one and that a headline sentence of six years was appropriate rather than an eight-year one.

“The headline sentence was too high, the discount for his plea [too low] and insufficient weight was given to his psychological and medical reports, with part reference to upending and the change to his life,” submitted O’Higgins.

The lawyer also pointed out that “it shouldn’t be lost in sight that there had been a previous history of booking hotel rooms [by his client for the Hutches] for credit purposes”.

O’Higgins said there were circumstances where the Court of Appeal had justification to hear new evidence and told the three-judge court that he wanted to call Dowdall’s wife to give evidence so she could explain the “difficulties” that they as a family have.

‘Patently unnecessary’

However, counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Sean Gillane SC, said he could not consent to the application and that it was “patently unnecessary” as the sentencing court had accepted the “dire consequences” of Dowdall.

After rising for a few moments, Mr Justice Birmingham said the court was not prepared to admit additional evidence from Dowdall’s spouse as the Special Criminal Court was “to a significant extent” focused on the decisions made by the appellant, “not just on his life but his family’s life”.

Opposing the appeal today, Gillane said the central point in the State’s submissions was that the four-year sentence handed down to Dowdall could be regarded as generous in terms of the overall nature of the case”.

The hotel room booked at the Regency Hotel, counsel said, was the “launchpad” for the murder of Kinahan Cartel member David Byrne; “that was the facilitation of a criminal organisation”. “It was not just the credit card being used to reserve a room but it also involved the bringing of a hotel key to the leading member of that criminal organisation,” he submitted.

Dowdall’s sentencing hearing was told that Room 2104 in the Regency Hotel was booked in the name of Jonathan’s father Patrick Dowdall on 4 February, 2016, one day before Mr Byrne’s murder. Patrick Dowdall’s mobile phone number was also on the hotel’s system, while a credit card connected to a family member of the Dowdalls had been used to secure the booking over the phone.

A man wearing a flat cap – identified as the now-deceased Kevin Murray – was observed on CCTV entering the hotel and spent the night in the room. Mr Murray, who cooperated with the “tactical team” that raided the Regency Hotel, died from motor neurone disease in 2017 before he could be brought to trial.

‘Unimpeachable’

The State’s barrister said the four-year sentence received by Dowdall was “indeed a generous” one and reflected the sentencing court giving as much measure as possible to the appellant, given the circumstances he had found himself in.

“Was it fair? Unequivocally yes,” stated Gillane, adding that the headline sentence of eight years was in the midrange, “unimpeachable” and that two separate discounts were applied thereafter totalling a 50 per cent reduction from the headline sentence.

In reply, O’Higgins said Dowdall was “duped” and put in a set of circumstances where once the garda investigation began then his client was in the firing line. “There was no loyalty to him, he was front and centre”, he concluded.

Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh, and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, reserved judgement in the sentence appeal.

On 28 September, 2022, Dowdall (44) – a married father of four with an address at Navan Road, Cabra, Dublin 7 – pleaded guilty at the Special Criminal Court to making a room available to the Hutch gang at the Regency Hotel, Swords Road, north Dublin, where the notorious murder of Kinahan Cartel member David Byrne (34) occurred in February 2016.

He had been originally charged with the murder of Byrne in April 2021 but the State dropped that charge after Dowdall admitted to the lesser charge of facilitating the Hutch gang by making a hotel room available for use by the perpetrators the night before the attack.

On 17 October, 2022, Dowdall was sentenced by the Special Criminal Court to four years imprisonment for facilitating the Hutch gang in the murder of Byrne, as part of the first convictions in the long-running investigation into the Regency Hotel shooting.

In December of last year, Dowdall launched his appeal against his four-year jail-term for facilitating the murder.