Ex-Sinn Féin councillor, who waterboarded man, granted rare ‘Newton hearing’

Jonathan Dowdall believed victim, Alexander Hurley, was pretending to be a barrister

Jonathan Dowdall has been granted a hearing to settle disputed evidence in the case

Jonathan Dowdall has been granted a hearing to settle disputed evidence in the case


A former Sinn Féin councillor, who waterboarded and threatened to kill a man who he believed was trying to defraud him, has been granted a hearing to settle disputed evidence in the case.

The Special Criminal Court on Tuesday directed that a “Newton hearing” take place on Wednesday morning to resolve the conflict on the facts in the case.

Presiding judge Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said today (Tuesday) that “Newton hearings” are “extraordinarily rare” but it would be permitted in this case in the interests of justice.

Last month, footage recorded on a mobile phone was shown to the court of Jonathan Dowdall (38) wearing a balaclava and holding a tea-towel to the man’s face before pouring water over his head.

The court heard that Jonathan Dowdall believed the victim, Alexander Hurley, was pretending to be a barrister and that he was seeking Dowdall’s bank details in order to defraud him.

The two men had met after Dowdall had advertised a motorbike for sale on donedeal.ie.

Jonathan Dowdall, with an address at Navan Road, Dublin 7 and his father Patrick Dowdall (59), of the same address, had both admitted to falsely imprisoning Alexander Hurley by detaining him without his consent at Navan Road, Dublin 7 on January 15th, 2015.

Both men had also pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Mr Hurley at the same place on the same date.

Earlier this month, the court adjourned the sentencing of Jonathan Dowdall and his father Patrick Dowdall after hearing submissions from Jonathan Dowdall’s counsel Mr Michael O’Higgins SC.

On May 19th, Mr O’Higgins submitted that a number of issues had arisen that the court should take into account before passing sentence.

Mr O’Higgins told the Special Criminal Court that suggestions that his client was a leading member of the IRA and a friend of Mary Lou Mc Donald and Gerry Adams were not accepted.

Counsel said his client did not invite Mr Hurley to dinner, but that Mr Hurley was coming to the house with a receipt.

Mr O’Higgins said that Mr Hurley had previous convictions for dishonesty and his word could not be accepted.

On Tuesday, upon hearing submissions from the prosecution and the defence at the three-judge, non-jury court, Ms Justice Kennedy said that the only method known to the law for the facts in the case to be resolved was by way of a “Newton hearing”.

She said that these hearings are “extraordinarily rare”.

Ms Justice Kennedy said that this application had been made at a “very late stage in the case” and the book of evidence had been served “undoubtedly some time ago”.

The judge said the sentence hearing was not at an end, the issues brought to their attention were “germane” to the sentence and they constituted “aggravating factors.”

Ms Justice Kennedy, presiding, sitting with Judge Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin and Judge James Faughnan, said the court will permit a “Newton hearing” in the interests of justice in this case.

The judge said the court considered five issues to be relevant to the “Newton hearing”.

The first was the contention that Jonathan Dowdall did not invite Alexander Hurley to dinner, but that Mr Hurley was coming to the house with a receipt. The second relevant fact was whether the ordeal lasted for a period of three hours. The judge said the third relevant fact was that Jonathan Dowdall contends he never stated he was head of the IRA or UDA. She said it was relevant that an alleged threat was made to Mr Hurley’s family and that Mr Hurley took a copy of Jonathan Dowdall’s insurance policy.

Ms Justice Kennedy said the reference made to Jonathan Dowdall being a friend of Mary Lou Mc Donald and Gerry Adams was irrelevant as she could not see how this assertion would constitute a threat. The judge also said that matters reported by the media and the LinkedIn profile were not relevant to sentencing.

“The court will engage upon a Newton hearing even though it is at a very late stage,” she said.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, the defence told the court that it had filed submissions in the case concerning certain matters where there had been conflict between the prosecution and the defence.

Mr O’Higgins said his client’s credibility was a matter of some concern, but Jonathan Dowdall did “not seek to go behind” his plea. “He is unequivocal in that,” said Mr O’Higgins. “However, he doesn’t wish to receive any additional penalty in respect of matters that didn’t happen in the way it has been alleged.”

Counsel said he could remember only two cases in the last 15 years where there had been a “Newton hearing” and it was not something that was “routinely engaged in.”

Mr O’Higgins said if “real conflicts” were relevant to the construction of the sentence then the court must hold a “Newton hearing”. “It is a layered case,” he said.

Michael Bowman SC, for Patrick Dowdall, said he was supporting the application made by Jonathan Dowdall.

Prosecution counsel, Mr Vincent Heneghan SC, said the book of evidence was served on both accused a long time ago and they had been aware of its content.

Mr Heneghan said that nothing Detective Inspector William Hanrahan, of the Special Detective Unit, gave in his evidence was “new”.

“The offence occurred in January 2015 and he (Jonathan Dowdall) was not apprehended until January 2016 so we are relying heavily on the statements of the injured party,” said Mr Heneghan.

At a sentence hearing last month, Det Insp William Hanrahan, of the Special Detective Unit, summarized the facts of the case to the court.

He told prosecuting counsel Vincent Heneghan SC that on March 9th last year gardaí were searching Jonathan Dowdall’s house on the Navan Road, in relation to a separate matter, when they found a USB flash drive.

Members of the gardaí at Jonathan Dowdall’s house on the Navan Road in north Dublin in March, 2016.
Members of the gardaí at Jonathan Dowdall’s house on the Navan Road in north Dublin in March, 2016.

When gardaí examined the flashdrive, they discovered that it contained footage of a man imprisoned in Dowdall’s garage.

The victim, Alexander Hurley, was located by gardaí on May 28th last year, and he gave a statement about the incident.

The court heard that on January 1st, 2015, Mr Hurley contacted Jonathan Dowdall through donedeal.ie about a motorcycle Dowdall had advertised for sale.

Mr Hurley expressed interest in the motorbike and on January 12th he met with the Dowdalls in their house, where he was shown the motorbike.

Later, he was contacted by Jonathan Dowdall. They discussed the purchase. Mr Hurley said that he was waiting for a loan from the Credit Union.

On January 15th, Mr Hurley got a phonecall from Jonathan Dowdall, who invited him to dinner at his house that evening.

Mr Hurley told the guards that he thought the invitation was a “bit unusual”, but that Jonathan Dowdall insisted Mr Hurley attend, saying that his father had enjoyed his company. That night, Mr Hurley went to the house.

He told the gardaí that as soon as he arrived he was pushed into the garage and backed into a swivel-chair by Patrick Dowdall.

He was “petrified”, he said. He was tied to the chair with cable-ties and told by Patrick Dowdall that he was a “lying bastard from the sewer”.

Patrick Dowdall told Mr Hurley that if he wanted to get out alive he better tell Jonathan what he wanted to hear. Mr Hurley, the court heard, was left alone in the garage and he heard the Dowdalls discussing what to do with him.

They said they would feed him to the dogs, chop him up and store him in a BMW if he did not tell the truth.

When they returned, Jonathan Dowdall was wearing a balaclava and he asked Mr Hurley to tell the truth and called him a thief.

A person appeared at the door with a bucket of water and a tea-towel. Jonathan Dowdall put the tea-towel over Mr Hurley’s face and poured a full bucket of water over his head, the court heard. “I thought I was being drowned,” Mr Hurley said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

Another bucket of water was poured over his head and he was told he had one more chance to tell the truth.

He was told he was not a barrister, that he was a fraudster, and that he would be chopped up and brought to Tyrone.

The court heard that he was told he was a “stupid dumbfuck to mess with the head of the IRA” and that Jonathan Dowdall was a “good friend of Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald”.

He was told if he contacted gardaí he would be killed.

Patrick Dowdall threatened to pull off his fingers one by one with a pliers.

Mr Hurley told the guards that the Dowdalls were asking him why he had sought Jonathan Dowdall’s bank details and that the father and son were concerned Mr Hurley was trying to defraud them.

The entire ordeal, the court heard, lasted for three hours.

Three video clips, recorded on a mobile phone, were shown to the court.

The first of three clips, from January 12th, 2015, showed Mr Hurley trying on motorcycle gear in the Dowdalls’ garage.

In the second and third clips, from January 15th, Mr Hurley was seen bound to a swivel-chair in the garage. The swivel-chair had been pushed to its side and Mr Hurley’s head was on the floor.

The video showed Jonathan Dowdall hold a tea-towel over Mr Hurley’s face and pour a bucket of water over his head.

The former councillor repeatedly asked Mr Hurley, “What were you going to do with my bank details?”

Mr Hurley said that he had applied for a loan.

Jonathan Dowdall said, “I’m going to cut you up piece-by-piece.”

“Please don’t hurt me,” Mr Hurley said.

The court then saw Jonathan Dowdall use an electric razor to shave Mr Hurley’s head. He asked again, “What were you doing with my bank details?”

He told Mr Hurley, “It’s all over Facebook you’re one of the biggest conmen going.”

Jonathan Dowdall held Mr Hurley down and poured another bucket of water over his head.

Later, the swivel-chair was lifted up.

Patrick Dowdall was heard saying, “I’m going to start with the little one and work my way up to your thumbs.”

The court heard that neither Jonathan nor Patrick Dowdall have any previous convictions.

Michael O’Higgins SC, for Jonathan Dowdall, and Michael Bowman SC, for Patrick Dowdall, told the court that their clients wanted to apologize for the violence and threats inflicted on the injured party.

The court heard that Jonathan Dowdall, a married man with four children, is a qualified electrician who in 2007 went into business himself, securing contracts with Bank of Ireland and G4S, a security company.

Mr O’Higgins said that he is “a man who lives for his family and has invested very heavily in his family”.

The barrister said that after meeting Mr Hurley his client he had searched online and discovered that a number of complaints had been made regarding transactions with Mr Hurley. There was a reference to a man who had sold a car and was paid by Mr Hurley in a Euro cheque but the cheque had bounced.

Mr O’Higgins said that Dowdall was under huge pressure and that his business depended on a good credit rating.

He wanted to frighten Mr Hurley, the court heard, into not using his bank details.

Mr Hurley’s profile on LinkedIn showed the official logo of the Law Library and stated that he was a barrister since July 2011.

Det Insp Hanrahan agreed with Mr O’Higgins that Mr Hurley was not a barrister. Mr Hurley had two convictions for fraud.

In a victim impact statement, read to the court by Mr Heneghan, Mr Hurley said that it was a “brutal and heinous act of crime” and that his “life has turned into a tower collapsing”.

He said that he had lost his job and his friends and that the “psychological injuries will never heal completely.”