Jonathan Dowdall loses appeal over severity of his jail sentence

Jonathan Dowdall Loses Appeal Over Severity Of His Jail Sentence
Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Birmingham said the court was in no doubt that the sentence imposed by the Special Criminal Court was one that fell within the available range. Photo: Collins
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Alison O'Riordan

The four-year sentence imposed on former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall for facilitating the murder of Kinahan Cartel member David Byrne at the Regency Hotel was “very lenient”, the Court of Appeal has found in dismissing the convicted torturer’s bid to have his jail time reduced.

Upholding the former electrician's sentence today, the President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said that counsel on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions had commented that the imposition of such a significantly reduced sentence may in all the circumstances be considered generous.


"We would not demur from that observation. Indeed, in our view, the sentence imposed, when viewed in the round, has to be seen as lenient - indeed, very lenient," said Mr Justice Birmingham.

Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, said the court was in no doubt that the sentence imposed by the Special Criminal Court was one that fell within the available range.

"If we had any doubts about the appropriateness of this sentence, it would be as to whether a more severe sentence ought to have been imposed. However, we will contend ourselves by saying we are entirely satisfied that the sentence cannot be regarded as unduly severe," he added.

Moving to appeal his sentence last month, Dowdall's barrister, Michael O'Higgins SC, told the Court of Appeal that his client had been "duped" and put in the "firing line" for the Regency Hotel attack.


Lawyers for Dowdall also argued that he may not have faced any trial at all if he'd been allowed to bring an application to dismiss the charges against him, but was denied that chance by a legal "quirk" after being charged before the non-jury Special Criminal Court rather than the District Court.

Room 2104 in the Regency Hotel was booked in the name of Jonathan's father Patrick Dowdall on February 4th, 2016, one day before Mr Byrne's murder. Jonathan Dowdall, the sentencing court heard, had driven his father to the hotel on the evening before the attack and a phone associated with him used a mast at the hotel.

52-day trial

During the 52-day trial of Gerard 'The Monk' Hutch, who was acquitted of the murder of Mr Byrne at the Regency Hotel and walked from court a free man.

Dowdall said he and his father drove to the hotel and his father went inside, gave his name and paid for the room.


Dowdall said he remained in his jeep in the car park of the hotel until his father came back, and the arrangement was that they would drop the key cards for the room into the home of Patsy Hutch, Gerard Hutch's older brother, on Champions Avenue in Dublin's inner city.

"I rang Patsy to say we were on the way to the house with the key, and we were told to leave them on Richmond Road. We went to Richmond Road...and Gerard came, and my father gave Gerard the cards," Dowdall claimed.

The State's case at Gerard Hutch's trial was that, after the Regency attack, Mr Hutch asked Dowdall to arrange a meeting with his provisional republican contacts to mediate or resolve the Hutch-Kinahan feud due to the threats against the accused's family and friends.

Appealing the severity of his four-year sentence for facilitating the Regency attack last month, Mr O'Higgins, for Dowdall, told the three-judge court that while the State may say the hotel room at the hotel 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 Hotel was Kevin Murray, who had known paramilitary connections with the IRA.

Court of Appeal president Mr Justice George Birmingham said last month 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.

Serious offence

"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 then made additional discounts".

Other grounds of appeal included that Dowdall wasn't "a time waster or a tyre kicker", was subjected to up to ten 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 courts recognise the huge and significant life changes that flow from that," he added.

Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh told the lawyer that it sounded like he was saying that his client had booked a room for an entirely innocent purpose and pointed out that he had pleaded guilty to the facilitation offence. "It sounds like you are coming very close to the line," she said.

Mr O'Higgins said he did not accept that because one cannot equivocate that they are put in a straight jacket.

"The law has to be clearly identifiable, and it also must be flexible, the reality of the situation was that he was looking at trial for murder, he had offered assistance, and he could not offer the plea without admitting what he did," he said.

He said there was a difference between a person buying burner phones - which he said was a "glowing red flag" - and booking a hotel room, which can lead straight back to the individual. "It makes them morally less culpable, Dowdall was morally weak in putting himself in that position, but he has paid a very high price," he said.

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