A hitman who gunned down Kinahan cartel target James 'Mago' Gately as part of an organised attempted murder conspiracy has been has jailed for 20 years by the Special Criminal Court on Wednesday morning.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt said the non-jury court noted there were others "equally or more culpable" for the attack than gunman Caolan Smyth, whom he described as a "ruthless and dangerous" criminal who had acted "in tandem" with others.
After his sentence was passed, Smyth turned to family members in the courtroom and said: "Five World Cups, and I'll be out".
Mr Gately 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. During the trial the court viewed CCTV footage of the attack, on which gun-smoke was visible and the victim could be seen getting out of his car and falling to the ground.
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.
McAreavey, who was also sentenced by the non-jury court on Wednesday for his role in the attempted murder, received a four-year sentence with the final year suspended.
During the trial the court heard evidence that the plot began with a "stakeout" of Mr Gately's home, with the prosecution relying on CCTV and mobile phone evidence to track the movements of the accused men.
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.
This morning, Mr Justice Tony Hunt, delivering sentence, said that Smyth was involved in an "organised conspiracy to murder". The judge said that Smyth was involved in a high-speed getaway resulting in the comprehensive burning out of a vehicle, which showed the "intent of conspiracy".
Mr Justice Hunt said that there was no doubting Smyth's intent and that it was only "fortuitous circumstances" that spared Mr Gately's life.
Mr Justice Hunt said that there was little in Smyth's personal circumstances by way of mitigation and noted the lack of a guilty plea or any expression of remorse.
Smyth was sentenced to 20 years for the attempted murder and to a further 12 years for possession of a weapon with both sentences to run concurrently.
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.
Mr Justice Hunt, sitting with Ms Justice Sarah Berkeley and Mr Justice Michael Walsh, said that during the murder attempt Mr Gately sustained a gunshot wound to the jaw, while four other bullets hit his bullet-proof vest. The judge said Mr Gately had given a statement to gardaí but had declined to either give evidence in the trial or supply a victim impact statement indicating any long-term harm.
The judge said that the organised nature of the crime meant that there were others "equally or more culpable than Caolan Smyth" involved and noted that the actions of witnesses at the scene and first-responders meant that the injuries were non-fatal.
Smyth, who has 36 previous convictions, had one circuit court conviction and was "not of good character", said the judge.
Mr Justice Hunt said that the automatic-calibre pistol used in the attempted murder was "more lethal than a sawn-off shotgun" and that it was a "stroke of luck, not a lack of [Smyth's] skill" that saved Mr Gately's life.
He said that the shooting occurred in the middle of a sunny day when "men, women and children were likely present" and that Smyth had no regard for public safety. Mr Justice Hunt said that Smyth was a "ruthless and dangerous" criminal and was acting "in tandem with other criminals".
The judge said that there was "nothing on offer" regarding mitigating circumstances and backdated the sentence to October 2019, when Smyth was first taken into custody.
After his sentence was passed, Smyth turned to family members in the gallery and said: "Five World Cups, and I'll be out".
Regarding McAreavey, Mr Justice Hunt said that his involvement was limited to the purchase of petrol, travelling to a remote location and the burning out of the black Lexus car.
The judge said that he was satisfied that McAreavey knew, or believed, that he was assisting Smyth in an attempt to impede his apprehension for a "serious, arrestable offence".
Mr Justice Hunt fixed a headline sentence of seven years for McAreavey's crime but said the court noted that his involvement was "limited to the immediate aftermath" of the shooting.
The judge said that McAreavey was not part of "a larger crime grouping" and that he had only one single "relevant" previous conviction.
He acknowledged the positive testimonials handed into the court in McAreavey's favour and said that jail would have a particular effect on one of McAreavey's children. McAreavey was also described as being "punctilious" in observing his bail.
Mr Justice Hunt suspended the final year of McArevey's ultimate four-year sentence for two years with "the last portion to be served in the community".
McAreavey then signed a €100 bond for the suspended portion of the sentence, which was back-dated to January 23 of this year.
Speaking after sentencing, Garda Superintendent Eddie Carroll said the convictions were "significant" and showed An Garda Síochána's determination to tackle organised crime.