Hitman found guilty of shooting drugs cartel target to be sentenced next month along with accomplice

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Hitman found guilty of shooting drugs cartel target to be sentenced next month along with accomplice

A hitman found guilty of shooting drugs cartel target James 'Mago' Gately, who survived the attempt on his life, will be sentenced by the non-jury Special Criminal Court next month along with an accomplice.

Mr Gately, who was a Kinahan cartel target, was shot five times as he sat in his car at the Topaz filling station on the Clonshaugh Road in north Dublin at lunchtime on May 10, 2017.

The victim, who was warned by gardaí of a threat to his life and wore a bullet-proof vest, survived the shooting after sustaining injuries to his upper chest and neck.  

Caolan Smyth (29) of Cuileann Court, Donore, Co Meath, had pleaded not guilty to Mr Gately's attempted murder. He had also denied the possession of a firearm with intent to endanger on the same date and location. He was found guilty of both charges on January 5.

Gary McAreavey (53) of Gort Nua, Station Road, Castlebellingham, Co Louth, had pleaded not guilty to acting to 'impede an apprehension or prosecution by purchasing petrol and assisting in the burning out of the vehicle, a black Lexus, used in the attempted murder' at Newrath, Dromiskin, Co Louth on the same day.  

The prosecution had argued there was "no other conclusion" than Smyth being the man who "pulled the trigger", while the court also heard that he had put Mr Gately under surveillance the day before and on the morning of the shooting.

The Special Criminal Court found it was beyond any reasonable doubt that Smyth was both the gunman and the driver in an "organised murder" attempt.

The attack marked the second attempt to murder Mr Gately, with former Estonian separatist Imre Arakas having been intercepted by gardai before he could carry out a contract on the victim's life the month beforehand. Arakas (62) was jailed by the Special Criminal Court for six years in December 2018, after he admitted to conspiring with others to murder James Gately in Northern Ireland between April 3 and 4, 2017.   

On Monday, prosecuting barrister Ms Anne-Marie Lawlor SC said that the maximum Smyth is facing is life imprisonment and McAreavey is facing a maximum of 10 years.

Detective Garda Finbar Fleming of Santry Garda Station told Ms Lawlor that Smyth, who appeared in court wearing a Gucci t-shirt, had 36 previous convictions stretching back to 2012 that included burglary and possession of stolen property.
Det Gda Fleming said that the victim, Mr Gately, did assist in the investigation but did not give evidence and did not want to give a victim impact statement.

Detective Garda Kevin Rooney of Santry Garda Station told Ms Lawlor that McAreavey had two previous convictions - one for public order and one for the reckless discharge of a legally-held firearm, which was later surrendered to gardaí.
McAreavey's barrister, Mr Hugh Hartnett SC, said that there was no evidence that his client was involved in any criminal behaviour prior to the attempted murder on the day in question.

Mr Justice Hunt agreed, saying that there was no evidence before the court that Mr McAreavey had prior involvement in the shooting.

Mr Hartnett said that McAreavey was a family man, a father of three, a good neighbour and that he and his wife had three children, the youngest of whom had a "significant disability".

Mr Hartnett said that testimonies to McAreavey's good and "trustworthy" character were handed into the court and that he had been fully compliant with gardaí during his time on bail.

Counsel said that McAreavey was not a part of any gang and that he was a painter-decorator who could not work full-time due to an injury but that he still did "nixer" work.

Mr Hartnett said it was not presented in evidence that McAreavey knew what the crime committed by Smyth was when McAreavey assisted in burning out the car.

"What jury could accept that there was something trivial here? None," Mr Justice Hunt replied, however.   

Mr John D Fitzgerald SC, defending Smyth, said that his client's parents had separated when he was a child and that Smyth's direction in life was guided by his grandfather who passed away in 2017. 

Smyth, who grew up in Coolock in Dublin, moved to Louth at aged 12 and left school after completing his Junior Certificate. Counsel said that Smyth had a good work record in construction, retail and security and had been an all-Ireland boxing champion at underage level.

Mr Fitzgerald said that there was no aggravating factor against Smyth in the form of a victim impact statement from Mr Gately.

"Yes, strange but true," said Mr Justice Hunt of the lack of the statement.

Mr Justice Hunt adjourned the case until February 17 to consider sentencing.

McAreavey and Smyth were both remanded in custody to that date.

In passing judgement at the non-jury court on January 5, presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt said that the case against Smyth was beyond any reasonable doubt that he took part in what was intended to be an "organised murder".

The prosecution case relied on mobile phone locations through cell towers and phone-use tied to the car's movements over May 9-10 and positive Garda identifications of Smyth from CCTV at the filling station.

Shortly after the attempted murder, McAreavey was spotted on CCTV in Castlebellingham filling petrol into a red petrol can, which the non-jury court found was used in the "comprehensive destruction" of the getaway car near Dromiskin after Smyth and McAreavey travelled in convoy to the burn-site.

Previous evidence

During the trial, Ms Lawlor, in her closing speech had said that the circumstantial case against Mr Smyth "is a whodunnit, where the only issue is if Caolan Smyth did it".

Regarding Mr Smyth, counsel said that the shooting was a "planned" one, which involved the "stake-out" of Mr Gately's north Dublin home that began the day before, May 9, 2017. Mr Gately's address had been confirmed by gardaí during the trial as the location where he received information that his life was under threat.

"The issue is whether or not Caolan Smyth pulled the trigger and discharged multiple shots into James Gately at the Topaz garage in Clonshaugh. There are a number of strands of evidence that allow for no other conclusion but that Mr Caolan Smyth was the driver of the black Lexus and that he shot Mr Gately," said Ms Lawlor.

Ms Lawlor said that the movements of the black Lexus on the day before the shooting "mirrored" the mobile phone locations used by a phone attributed to Smyth on both days.

She said there was "a blanket of evidence that extinguishes oxygen from any other reasonable possibility other than Caolan Smyth being the driver of that vehicle," said Ms Lawlor. "This isn't a case of identifying a snowman in a blizzard," she said.

"The weight of the evidence is of a kind that the court can have no doubt whatsoever but that Mr Smyth was the person who shot Mr Gately," said Ms Lawlor.

The car, which had previously been in the service of the Pakistan embassy and had diplomatically registered plates, had been captured on camera before the shooting without any passenger present.

At around 1.30pm on May 10 it was viewed on CCTV idling at the petrol station before pulling up to Mr Gately's red Ford Mondeo.

Gun-smoke and was visible on CCTV and Mr Gately could be seen getting out of his car and falling to the ground.

The Lexus, which was recognisable by tinted rear windows and a flag-holder, then sped off, almost colliding with another car.

The car was traced through Smyth's use of a mobile phone whose number was found in the contact book of McAreavey's phone, after he saved a text to it that read "Smythser new".

Witnesses told gardaí that a large pall of smoke could be seen from the burn site at Dromiskin at around 2.50pm later the same day.

Delivering judgement, Mr Justice Hunt said that it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that Smyth was the driver of "the murder car".

Four gardaí gave evidence that they could also identify Smyth from CCTV images of Smyth emerging from his home on both May 9 and May 10.

After the shooting, CCTV captured McAreavey in a white Caddy van reversing from his home and waiting for Smyth. The pair exchanged calls as Smyth approached and both vehicles went to the burn site. CCTV from a farm also captured that only the Caddy van returned from the remote road at Dromiskin.

Mr Justice said that he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of Smyth's guilt, adding that Mr Gately only survived the attempt because he was "forewarned by gardaí and forearmed by the vest".

The judge said that the rural burn site was selected "to ensure there would be no trace left for investigators".

Mr Justice Hunt said that the phone and car were in "consistent association with Mr Smyth, before, during and after the shooting".

"Then the music stopped and Caolan Smyth was clearly the only man left standing," said the judge.

He found Smyth guilty on both the attempted murder and the possession of a weapon charge.

Regarding McAreavey, the judge said that counsel had argued that no evidence of McAreavey's state of mind had been put forward by the prosecution and that there was therefore no evidence that he knew Smyth had committed a crime.

However, the judge said that there was "no doubt" that the phone used by McAreavey had more than one number for Smyth in it.

Mr Justice Hunt said that the calls after the attempted murder and the transit in convoy were "not coincidental" and revealed a pattern.

He added that contact between the two phones only ceased when Smyth and McAreavey met up before burning out the murder car.

"He knew well before he [McAreavey] provided assistance. I am satisfied that that threshold has been comfortably passed," said the judge, who added that McAreavey lied to gardaí in his interview, when McAreavey denied knowing Smyth.

"He [McAreavey] had no possible reason to deny knowing him [Smyth] unless it was not an innocent denial," said the judge, who found McAreavy guilty of assisting in the burning out of the car.