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35-year-old Michael Barr was killed at the Sunset House pub in Dublin's north inner city.

British gunman jailed for life for murder of Michael Barr

Michael Barr was killed at the Sunset House pub in Dublin’s north inner city in 2016.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Nov 2020

A BRITISH CAR THIEF has been jailed for life by the non-jury Special Criminal Court for the Kinahan Cartel murder of the manager of the Sunset House pub in Dublin.

Liverpool native David Hunter (42), with an address at Du Cane Road, White City, London, had denied the murder of 35-year-old Michael Barr at the Sunset House pub in Dublin’s north inner city on the night of 25 April 2016.

Barr was shot seven times after two armed men wearing boiler suits and full rubber masks entered the Sunset House pub at around 9pm. He was shot fives times in the head, once in the leg and once in the shoulder.

In a victim impact statement, Barr’s sister Noeleen said her brother’s five children would have to live with the trauma of knowing how their father was gunned down in his place of work “on the orders of others who pay fools to murder human beings”.

She asked how a life could be “measured in drugs or money”.

Hunter, who was characterised as a “two-bit car thief” by his own defence team, claimed he had come to Dublin to see a UB40 concert and for “one last fling” before he checked himself into a rehabilitation centre in Spain.

The court found there was compelling evidence that Hunter was one of the two gunmen who entered the Summerhill pub and murdered Barr by shooting him. DNA from a ski-mask recovered from the getaway car matched that of the defendant. Hunter admitted to owning the mask but the court rejected his story that he had dropped it when visiting Ireland two months before the murder on a car-stealing exercise.

Hunter is the second man to be found guilty of murdering dissident republican Barr. In January 2018, Eamon Cumberton (32), of Mountjoy Street, Dublin 7, was also convicted of murdering the Tyrone native.

At today’s sentencing hearing Detective Garda Colm Kelly told prosecution counsel, Dominic McGinn SC, that Hunter has 15 previous convictions dating back to 1997 that include actual bodily harm, possession of a knife and dangerous driving.

Delivering sentence, Justice Alexander Owens, presiding, sitting with Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge David McHugh, backdated Hunter’s life-sentence to April 2019, when he was first arrested on a European Arrest Warrant in the UK.

Speaking outside court, Detective Superintendent Colm Murphy said that the shooting of Barr was a “cold and callous” murder. He extended his sympathies to the Barr family and said that the garda investigation into the murder was ongoing.

“I welcome today’s conviction at the Special Criminal Court in relation to the murder of Michael Barr. This was a cold, callous murder conducted on an individual going about his business in the Sunset House.

“At this time, we remember Michael’s family, his partner and his children. I want to make it clear today that this is an ongoing investigation and want to reassure the public that we will bring all those involved in this murder to justice. This is the third conviction in relation to this murder but the investigation remains ongoing.

“Gardaí are acutely aware of the impact that this has on communities and I want to assure the communities that we will do everything in our power to bring those involved to justice, said Det Supt Murphy.

‘Brutally taken’ 

In a victim-impact statement read by prosecution barrister Dominic McGinn SC, Barr’s sister Noeleen said her brother was “brutally taken” from the Barr family and from his five children.

“On April 25, 2016, Michael’s life and future was brutally taken. That night, not only was his life taken but the lives of his five children, grandmother, mother, father, sisters and only brother’s lives changed forever,” she said.

She said that the news of her brother’s death had spread on social media, which was the “disturbing, immoral and totally undignified way” that the family found out about the murder.

“To even try to explain that to his children is unimaginable. Then, to have to wait eight days for his body to return home is soul-destroying. Then, to tell my grandmother that her grandson was murdered will haunt me for the rest of my life. Michael was like a son to her and she adored him. She is distraught even to this day and is unable to attend court. It was a living nightmare. My then-12-year-old son found me in pieces on the floor making sounds that I never even knew were possible – that will haunt me forever.

“To see the raw pain etched on my parents’ faces will haunt me forever. To hear Michael’s little boy asking if his daddy will ever wake up will haunt me forever.

“To see his son getting amazing results in his exams this summer and not being able to share that pride with his dad will haunt me forever. For his five children it is hard for them to understand why their daddy will never be there for the important milestones in their lives. They will have to live with the heart-breaking trauma of knowing how their daddy was gunned down in his place of work on the orders of others who pay fools to murder human beings. How can a life be measured in drugs or money?

“I hope and pray that no other family will have to live through this torment. It is hard enough to lose a family member in normal circumstances but to have to watch your brother’s body being removed from a murder scene in a red bag from where he work and was loved is mental torture because those images are forever accessible online.”

Barr described her brother’s character as “a loveable rogue, who was very charismatic and a good friend to many”.

She said her brother was “always up to mischief” as a young boy and that at a young age he was nicknamed “Del Boy” because of his plans to make money and who grew up to be a “real gentleman” with a love for family, cooking, Liverpool FC, football and hurling.

She said he was a gifted carpenter and that his woodwork creations are housed at Strabane Sigersons GAA clubhouse to this day, adding that he was “very popular and respected at all levels in Strabane and that his funeral mirrored that”.

“We are broken and distraught. Not a day goes by and not a day goes by when we don’t think or speak about him. Our life sentence began on April 25, 2016, and now all we have are memories and broken hearts. Nothing will ever heal the pain in our hearts. We miss Michael so much that our family is broken and nothing will ever change that,” she said.

In her victim-impact statement, also read by McGinn, Barr’s former partner Jade O’Shea said that their six-year-old daughter constantly asks for her father and that since the “brutal” night of 25 April 2016, their lives have been “turned upside down”.

O’Shea said: “My daughter constantly asks me about her daddy and it hurts me so much to tell her what happened to him. I know she needs to know the truth that we will now spend the rest of our lives without him. We will never get him back. Michael was also like a father to my two other children and they, too, will see a future without him”.

‘Sure of his guilt’ 

Delivering his judgment in September, Justice Owens said that the evidence had been heard in a “compelling way” that Hunter was one of the two gunmen who entered the Summerhill pub and murdered Barr by shooting him. Hunter’s involvement in the murder had been “fully proved” and the three-judge court was “sure of his guilt”, remarked Justice Owens.

The judge noted that the murderers had failed to burn out the getaway car, which had been abandoned at Walsh Road in Drumcondra a few minutes after the killing and they had also dropped a burner phone at the getaway scene. He said the major part of a DNA profile taken from a ski-mask recovered from the car during the investigation into the shooting of Barr matched and verified the profile of Hunter.

The circumstantial evidence in the case “pointed inextricably” to Hunter’s guilt and the facts taken together had established the father-of-five’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and no other rational explanation could be drawn, he indicated.

Justice Owens said the court rejected Hunter’s explanation for his whereabouts on the night and found it “implausible” with part of it being contradicted by other evidence. He also said the whole story of how Hunter came to lose his ski-mask “did not have a ring of truth about it” and there was no doubt that it was put into the getaway car to either use at the murder or in the getaway car. “Whether he is an avid skier is neither here nor there,” he added.

In a voluntary statement to gardaí, Hunter said that the ski-mask was his but that he had dropped it in a car driven by another man when he visited Ireland two months before the murder on a car-stealing exercise. Hunter also claimed he had used the mask on various ski trips with his children to Norway, France, Spain, Scotland, Austria and Switzerland. A number of holiday photos of Hunter in a ski mask were handed into court during the trial.

“The DNA material attributed to Hunter and the matching DNA profile itself established a strong probability that Hunter was one of the murderers in the car,” said Justice Owens. He described it as “far-fetched” and not a “credible explanation” that the ski-mask had been left behind by the defendant when he came to steal cars in Dublin in February 2016. The presiding judge said it struck the non-jury court that Dublin has no shortage of minor criminals and Hunter is from Liverpool so the idea that he came to the capital for a day or two to steal cars was “improbable”.

In conclusion, the judge said that Hunter could not have been the driver of the getaway car as he was unlikely to be familiar with places like Walsh Road in Drumcondra. The evidence pointed to Hunter being in the rear passenger seat of the Audi and Cumberton being the driver, he continued.

Justice Owens said the court did not accept that the purpose of Hunter’s “peculiar” trip to Dublin was for “one last fling” before he checked himself into a rehabilitation centre in Spain. Hunter further claimed he had come to Ireland from Liverpool on the ferry two days earlier to see a UB40 concert but it had already taken place.

Hunter had received a phone call an hour after the murder from one of the four “murder phones” used on the night. The three-judge court found the defendant’s explanation that he had taken a call that night from a man looking to buy his red BMW car, which he brought to Ireland to sell as “unbelievable and untrue”. Mr Justice Owens said it was more likely that when the gang could not get Hunter on the burner phone that was dropped after the murder that night, they called him on his personal UK mobile.

Barr was shot seven times after two armed men wearing boiler suits and full rubber masks over their faces entered the Sunset House pub at around 9pm. He had been shot fives times in the head, once in the leg and once in the shoulder. Then-Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis found that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.

During the five-week trial which ended in July, evidence was given that at around 9.20pm at Walsh Road in Drumcondra, a silver Audi A6 was seen to arrive and that three occupants got out and set the car alight. The three men then got into a “possibly silver” Ford Mondeo and left the scene but gardaí already in the area arrived at 9.42pm and extinguished the fire. The burning Audi A6 vehicle was examined and cocked and loaded weapons, ready for use, were discovered. Boiler suits, two ski masks and two rubber masks were also found in the rear seat. Gardaí also found a “burner phone”, which had a number of missed calls, next to a bullet on the grass nearby.

During the trial, Dr Edward Connolly of Forensic Science Ireland testified that mixed DNA profiles had been found on two masks – one rubber and one ski – taken from the Audi by gardaí. The expert witness said that he found a mixed DNA profile on a ski-mask with four elements; one major, two minor and one trace. The “major contributor” of the ski-mask’s DNA profile formed 61% of the mixed profile, he said.

DNA samples from an apple core and a cigarette butt discarded by Hunter in the course of his extradition from the UK and his processing in Ireland on 16 October 2019, were also cross-referenced by Dr Connolly. The witness testified that the odds on the profile created by the cigarette butt and the apple core being of “an individual unrelated to the DNA on the ski-mask were “a thousand-million to one”.

Closing the prosecution case in July, prosecuting counsel Dominic McGinn SC with Ronan Kennedy SC said Hunter would have to be an “extremely unlucky” man if he was not involved in the killing. He argued that “there could be no reasonable doubt” of Hunter’s involvement unless the court was to believe that he had been “extremely unlucky with all of these coincidences” that had been offered in his defence.

McGinn said that DNA evidence on a ski-mask, which had a mixed profile with one 61% contributor, matched the DNA profile taken from a cigarette butt and ear-plugs used and discarded by Hunter when in custody. Furthermore, McGinn said that ballistics could match the guns used in the murder to those found in an Audi A6 on the Walsh Road in Drumcondra, Dublin 9, shortly after the shooting.

Defence counsel Roisin Lacey SC said in her closing address that her client was “no James Bond, or Ethan Hunt” and was instead a “two-bit car thief”. Lacey said that Hunter, who claimed he came to Ireland to see a concert and said he was with two women in a Dublin hotel around the time of the shooting, could not “logically” have been the killer. The barrister submitted that her client was not in the Sunset House, not in the vehicles used on the night and that he did not shoot anyone.

Lacey indicated that the defendant was an habitual wearer of the mask in the past and this could explain the majority of the mixed profile coming from Hunter on the ski-mask, which had been in close contact with the rubber mask.

Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after the September judgement, the father of Michael Barr said it was a “good day for us as a family” and the verdict gave them “some satisfaction” that Hunter “was going behind bars”.

Colin Barr said Hunter had been “found guilty for all his lies”. “He thought he could come from Liverpool and murder somebody and skip back to Spain. Michael’s son is here, his heart is broken. These boys need to know there are consequences for taking someone’s life, that they will have to pay a price,” he added.

Barr also said “we know who’s behind this”. “Everyone knows who is paying these men and people are prepared to take money to take a human life, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, killing for money, it’s ridiculous. I have no fear of them, they can do what they want,” he said.

He said organised crime “has got no place in Ireland” and “without the gardai these people would not be behind bars”.

Barr also called for Hunter to serve his full sentence in Ireland. “The problem is; when he serves his sentence he’ll probably be sent back to Liverpool to prison there which is not right. He left England to come here to murder an Irishman, so why should he be sent home. He should definitely be made to serve his sentence here,” he concluded.

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Paul Neilan and Isabel Hayes.
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