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Saturday 3 June 2023 Dublin: 17°C
PA Images A general view of the New Courts of Criminal Justice, Parkgate Street.
# Special Criminal Court
Jailing Kinahan cartel member with claustrophobia akin to 'putting man with arachnophobia in a cell with spiders'
A Portlaoise Prison GP said Patrick Curtis’s anxiety is ‘severe’.

JAILING A CLAUSTROPHOBIC senior Kinahan cartel member, who directed a sub-cell in a plot to murder Patrick ‘Patsy’ Hutch, is like putting “a man with arachnophobia in a cell with spiders”, a doctor has told the Special Criminal Court.

A senior investigating officer also told the non-jury court today that the cartel’s main leadership operates in the Middle East and coordinates the organisation of its various “sub-cells”.

During the sentence hearing for Patrick Curtis and Mohammed Smew, Curtis’s barrister told the three-judge court that his client had compromised the integrity of his encrypted phone by using his personal phone to take screen grabs of it in order to keep a record.

“This might be a clue as to his overall mental ability,” he submitted.

Patrick Curtis (38) of Bellman’s Walk, Seville Place, Dublin 1 has pleaded guilty to directing the activities of a criminal organisation within the State between 1 February and 10 March, 2018.

Mohammed Smew (27) of Milner’s Square, Shanowen Road, Santry, Dublin 9 has pleaded guilty to participating in the activities of a criminal organisation, to wit the murder of Mr Hutch, by providing, moving and repairing vehicles, and of the planning or assisting to plan an attempted shooting between 1 February, 2018, and 3 March, 2018.

Patrick Curtis and Smew are the last two men to be sentenced for their involvement in the plan to kill Hutch – the older brother of the leader of the rival Hutch organised crime group.

Last month, presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt imposed sentences totalling 19 years on three men who took part in the Kinahan Cartel plot to kill Mr Hutch in Dublin’s north inner city.

At today’s sentence hearing, Detective Superintendent David Gallagher from the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, summarised the facts of the case.

Det Supt Gallagher told prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane SC that the investigation occurred between February and March 2018 and the surveillance operation initially focused on a silver Mercedes car, which was associated with another accused Michael Burns.

As the investigation developed, focus was placed on an Audi vehicle which was associated with Patrick Curtis and became the subject of audio surveillance, he said.

The investigation involved a combination of features including manual surveillance, audio surveillance, the harvesting of CCTV footage and phone data material.

“Ten individuals were identified as being involved and had provided a variety of roles,” said Det Supt Gallagher, adding that seven men have already been convicted by the Special Criminal Court and another person was not charged.

The target of the Kinahan organised crime group was Patrick “Patsy” Hutch and the plan was to murder him as he left his house on Champions Avenue, said Mr Gillane.

The investigation was concentrated on two particular addresses associated with Mr Hutch, the first being his house on Champions Avenue and the second was his daughter’s address at an address in Dublin 1. Mr Hutch travelled on a motorcycle which he generally parked in the front garden of his house under tarpaulin.

Audio surveillance captured a discussion between Patrick Curtis and a female acquaintance in which he told her:

They have so much money that they could buy half of them Hutch’s to kill their own half, that’s the way it’s gone. People are getting money for a hit. People are getting money they used to get for a hit. People are getting money for setting them up now worth a hit. People are getting €20,000 and all for setting somebody up. 

Defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC, for Patrick Curtis called Dr Conor McGarry, a GP attached to Portlaoise Prison, to give evidence for the first time in his career on behalf of a prisoner.

Dr McGarry said that Patrick Curtis, who has been diagnosed with excessive compulsive disorder, has historic issues which have impacted on his ability to cope with prison in Ireland.

He said the defendant got locked in a car at the age of seven and broke his fingernails attempting to get out of the vehicle and suffers from a fear of being alone since. He began to suffer from panic attacks from the age of 17 years and went to a mental health service, he said.

The witness testified that Patrick Curtis suffers from irrational behaviour and blesses himself around sixty times a day to compensate for negative thoughts. He shares a cell in the A block of Portlaoise Prison with his brother Stephen as his anxiety levels are so bad.

It has never previously happened that two prisoners have shared the same cell, said Dr McGarry.

Claustrophobia is Patrick Curtis’ main issue and putting him in a cell is like putting a man with arachnophobia in a cell with spiders, said Dr McGarry.

“It’s an extra level of psychological trauma,” he added.

He suffers from tense anxiety, obsessional and depressed thoughts, he said:

His symptoms are so severe that he expressed suicidal thoughts rather than enduring it. I’ve never before had a patient with such debilitating anxiety.

Patrick Curtis takes an antipsychotic drug as well as a very high dose of medication prescribed for depression and anxiety, he said.

Dr McGarry explained that transporting the defendant in the prison van from prison to court is particularly difficult and Curtis feels he will lose consciousness. “He has a ritual where he sticks his foot below the door which gives him some relief,” he added.

In mitigation, Mr O’Higgins said that Patrick Curtis was receiving directions from someone more senior and “making good” on those directions.

The lawyer said Burns was a “much more active cog” in the machine or at least as active as his client. He agreed with Mr Justice Hunt that he was a “low-end director”.

Regarding his illness, Mr O’Higgins said his client had a very significant handicap and the court should take this into account and give appropriate weight to it.

Mr O’Higgins handed into court a very detailed psychological report of his client and said the fact he has a level of guilt and remorse was a promising insight.

“On the individual facts of the case this is not top-heavy directional activity,” he concluded, adding that the plan was an incompetent operation. He asked the judges to be as lenient as possible when sentencing his client.

Mr Lynn, for Smew, asked the court to take into account that his client was a disposable person and his role came to an end in February.

He had no means at the time, was without a permanent home and had a drug problem, he said.

Smew’s family are originally from Libya but he was born in Ireland and grew up here with his six siblings.

Both his parents are doctors, he embarked on a law degree at Griffith College but suffered a serious motorcycle accident which set him back and his mental health deteriorated, he submitted.

“One cross he will always have to bear is the shame he has brought on his family. He cannot explain it himself and is profoundly ashamed of that,” said the barrister.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge Sarah Berkeley and Judge Dermot Dempsey, remanded the two men in custody until 31 August, when they will be sentenced.

Alison O'Riordan