Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch caught after making schoolboy error as full operation details emerge
Gang boss Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch gave away his hideout to police by venturing onto his Costa del Sol balcony for some early-morning fresh air - despite being a wanted man.
The Irishman’s schoolboy error is today revealed by the head of the elite team tasked with leading the operation to find and arrest him.
His amateur slip enabled detectives to obtain his photo and use it to confirm the man they were after was bunkered down in a town centre apartment block in Fuengirola, Spain in an area they already had under surveillance.
Two days after bringing about his own capture, Hutch was arrested as he sat down at a nearby restaurant for an evening meal.
He had shaved off his long hair and a beard in a crude attempt to avoid capture after being made a wanted man over the Regency Hotel attack, the Civil Guard boss responsible for his arrest revealed in a tell-all interview about the operation to locate and detain one of Ireland’s Most Wanted.
The high-profile fugitive opted for his new look after flying to Malaga from his Lanzarote home and heading for his Costa del Sol hideaway in March shortly before Ireland put Spanish police on alert by issuing a European Arrest Warrant (EAW).
His balcony gaffe occurred just two days before he was held at a restaurant called Limoncello near his Costa safe house where he was about to enjoy an Italian meal with wife Patricia.
Hutch, dressed casually in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt when he was arrested, was nabbed on August 12 by undercover cops after a four-month-long investigation led by the Civil Guard’s Central Operative Unit’s Fugitive Task Force. He is now in prison near Madrid ahead of his expected extradition to Ireland to face trial.
The breathtaking details of the operation to find and catch the Dubliner can today be revealed for the first time in the words of the team tasked with capturing him.
For security reasons we have chosen not to name the experienced officer responsible for the men and women who make up UCO’s Madrid-based Fugitive Task Force and worked round the clock to ensure Hutch was captured.
But his revelations offer a compelling new insight into the Irishman’s attempts to avoid being caught and tried for the February 5 2016 killing of David Byrne in a savage murder that escalated the ongoing Hutch-Kinahan feud.
The officer, the chief lieutenant of the UCO Fugitive Task Force - in Spanish the ‘Equipo de Huidos de la Justicia de la UCO de la Guardia Civil’ - revealed: “We received a visit from the Gardai, specifically from the Gardai liaison officers based in Spain, about a month before the EAW against the Irish fugitive was issued in April.
“They told us that in Ireland they were planning to issue the warrant against this person over the Regency Hotel attack.
“They asked us to locate him first if possible before the order was issued. He lived in Lanzarote although we never saw him there but knew he was staying on the island.
“By the time we started looking for him he wasn’t in Lanzarote anymore and we discovered he had flown to Malaga in March using his own passport.
“We waited a day for him in the airport because we knew he had a return plane ticket to Lanzarote booked and we thought we could arrest him before he boarded.
“He never showed and we believe now he found out the warrant was going to be issued.
“It was issued around three or four days before he was booked to fly back to Lanzarote.
“We thought his arrest was going to be an easy job but it turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated.
“It was revealed soon afterwards in Ireland he had become a wanted man so that meant he knew for sure he was a fugitive and our formal investigation began.
“My team went to Lanzarote after the EAW was issued but we never saw him living there.
“We already knew he had flown to Malaga Airport with his wife before he was made a wanted man and we were sure he was still somewhere in the province of Malaga for reasons I cannot disclose.
“What struck us as interesting was that from the Malaga Airport cameras, we saw he had shoulder-length-long hair and a beard.
“The next time we saw him was on the balcony of his rented home overlooking a public square two days before his arrest and he had no beard and short hair.
“It was about 10am and he appeared to have gone out for a breath of fresh air. He wasn’t doing anything special.
“A photo we obtained of him on his balcony enabled us to determine 100% the man we were hunting was staying at the apartment in Fuengirola in the area we had under watch.
“We’d been keeping the area around the apartment block under close surveillance but didn’t have any guarantees he was in the flat in question until we got the positive photo identification.
“We were pretty sure we had our man and Garda nailed it for us by corroborating it was him after seeing the picture themselves.
“He’s got some very characteristic features and one was the streak of greying hair in the central part of his head which otherwise is covered with dark hair.
“We’d been watching the area he was staying in for the previous two to three weeks and knew we were on the right track because his hand-picked network of collaborators were always moving around the square near to his home.
“We suspected something was happening at his rented property related to his flight but we hadn’t seen him when we put it under surveillance and couldn’t be sure he was there.
“The second time we saw him was the evening two days later he went to the restaurant.”
The police boss added: “I can’t say how we got the photo on the balcony because they’re part of our operational techniques, but it was taken with special resources.
“I went into the apartment the day after the arrest and it was a very large flat with four bedrooms.
“I don’t think the man we were after had a specific escape plan in mind.
“Nor do I believe he would have had an opportunity to escape from his home. It wasn’t the ideal place to flee from.
“I sincerely think he believed we were going to be incapable of tracking down his hideaway.
“In any case we’re talking about a person who’s in his late 50s and is not going to want to start jumping over walls or fences or scaling balconies like you see in Hollywood films to get away.
“My own view is he probably wouldn’t have been going out very often and would have been very conscious in the beginning about security before relaxing as time went on and he thought his hideout probably hadn’t been identified.
“It’s human nature for people to relax in those circumstances and let their guard down.
“I can’t confirm he was definitely at the flat where we spotted him from March or comment on what sort of life he was leading if he was there because it’s not information I have.”
Officials at Spain’s Audiencia Nacional Court in Madrid must now decide whether to give the green light to the extradition to Ireland Hutch is appealing.
Officials confirmed earlier this week Gerry Hutch had said he was opposing extradition at a hearing before a judge in Madrid two days after his arrest.
It was the first time the court had confirmed he was refusing to be flown back to Ireland to face justice.
The Civil Guard are reluctant to explain for “operational reasons” why they targeted the area where Hutch’s Fuengirola hideout was identified.
They say the flat was rented to someone who ceded it to Hutch and the apartment owner was an “ordinary citizen” who would have had no idea a fugitive was living in his property.
But they are quick to attribute the success of the operation to locate and arrest Hutch to the “excellent co-operation and exchange of information” between the Gardai and Civil Guard.
Police say they are certain Hutch did not leave Spain after flying to Malaga from Lanzarote in March despite the international police hunt for him.
It is understood his Irish passport has not been found by investigators.
Patricia Hutch has been allowed to leave the property and was not arrested and her current whereabouts is unclear. No other arrests of people believed to be part of Hutch’s alleged “logistical support team” have taken place.
The Civil Guard boss said: “Several things led us to the property where we ended up finding this man.
“Information was coming from all sorts of places and all lines of inquiry but I can’t be more specific.
“From my point of view one of the strengths of this operation and the explanation for its success has been the close co-operation that has existed between us and the Gardai.
“If that excellent co-operation hadn’t existed I don’t think we would have been able to get to our target.
“This wasn’t of course a question of the Gardai ringing us and saying if you go to this address you’ll be able to find and arrest him.
“There was a constant exchange of information between us and we would turn to the Gardai when we needed to confirm information with them and vice-versa, for example when we needed to try to identify people we had taken pictures of that we suspected were part of the fugitive’s logistical support team and we thought the Gardai might have information on.
“It’s been an excellent example of joint work and co-operation between two police forces and has enabled us to gather some very good intelligence which will be useful to us in the future.
“As far as my team goes I can say without any shadow of a doubt that these men and women are the best team in the Civil Guard and I’m not just saying that because they’re under my command.
“When we got the picture of the fugitive on the balcony, one of my officers was on holiday and he rang me begging me to order him to come back to work.
“They work 24/7 whenever it is necessary.”
The decision that will seal his fate will not be made in a public hearing - and will be the responsibility of three judges sitting in another court which forms part of the Audiencia Nacional set-up.
Hutch is behind bars right now at Soto del Real jail near the Spanish capital where the likes of British terrorist Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary are also believed to be in custody.
The UCO, which in English translates as the Central Operative Unit, is a specialised division of the Civil Guard responsible for the investigation of the most serious forms of crime and organised crime.