A Dublin grandfather whose son was murdered over a drug feud offered his home as an overnight safe-house to a Kinahan cartel assassin, the Special Criminal Court has heard.
Stephen Fowler (62) pleaded guilty on Tuesday at the non-jury court to his participation in the attempted murder of Kinahan cartel target James 'Mago' Gately, a member of the rival Hutch gang, when Gately was living in Belfast in April 2017.
Less than a month later, in May 2017, Gately survived a second assassination attempt on his life when he was parked at the Topaz petrol station in Clonshaugh in north Dublin, where he was shot five times.
On Thursday Detective Garda Sergeant David Carolan told Dominic McGinn SC, prosecuting, that a conspiracy to murder Gately was underway as gardaí monitored Estonian hitman Imre Arakas upon his arrival at Dublin Airport in April 2017.
Det Sgt Carolan said that gardaí monitored Arakas taking a bus from the airport to Dublin city centre, where he bought a wig, before he was collected by Fowler and another male and taken to Fowler’s home at Blakestown Cottages, Clonsilla, Dublin 15.
Mr McGinn said that at around 8.20pm on April 3rd, 2016, Fowler picked up Arakas in his van, which was branded ‘Blakestown Tyres’, at Barry’s Hotel in Dublin city centre. He then brought him to Blakestown Cottages because Fowler had “owed” another unnamed male.
The next day, April 4th, 2016, gardaí, on foot of a search warrant, went to the Blakestown Cottages address and arrested Fowler and Arakas.
In interviews with gardaí, Fowler said he would not name whom he took instruction from because it would amount to a threat to his life.
Mr McGinn said that a visible open thread on the Blackberry phone device used by Arakas led to gardaí piecing together the plot to murder Gately.
On Tuesday, Fowler pleaded guilty to the single charge of having knowledge of a criminal organisation and “with the intention of enhancing the ability of the said criminal organisation or any of its members to commit a serious offence, namely the murder of James Gately, participated in or contributed to activities with the said offence”.
The offence relates to dates between December 7th, 2016, and April 4th, 2017, at a location or locations within the State, when Gately was in Northern Ireland.
In 2012, Fowler pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis worth €450,000 and served six years of an eight-year sentence. The courts will now review the matter of the 2017 offence, as Fowler was on a two-year suspended sentence at the time from his release of June 7th, 2016.
Defending counsel, Michael Bowman SC, said that his client had “engaged fully” with gardaí in interviews and that Fowler had made “substantial admissions”.
Mr Bowman said Fowler knew that Arakas was in the country for “a criminal act” but that Fowler was unaware of the plot to kill Gately.
Counsel said that Mr Fowler’s son, Eric (34), was in Poland at the time of the offence and that Fowler had taken responsibility for a debt associated with his deceased son.
Father-of-two Eric was gunned down in front of his home at Blakestown Cottages on December 22nd, 2018.
Mr Bowman said that, with regards to Fowler’s previous drug conviction, it was Eric who was “the person of interest” and that his client’s incarceration cost him a marriage of 36 years.
Mr Bowman said Fowler was “taking directions” and not “giving them out” at the time of the 2017 conspiracy to end Gately’s life.
Counsel said that Fowler was “at the sharp end of a criminal circle” when his client committed the offence and that Fowler had four grandchildren and was “very close” with his daughter.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding at the three-judge court, said the court would finalise sentencing in the matter, which carries a maximum jail-term of 15 years, on October 4th.
Related court cases have heard that Gately had been warned by gardaí of a threat to his life from criminals who believed him to be involved in the Regency Hotel murder of Kinahan cartel associate David Byrne in February 2016.
The Special Criminal Court has previously heard that there was “ongoing targeting” of Gately in the context of a feud between the Hutch and Kinahan crime groups.