Prison officer sent 'evil' hate letters to jail chief son of IRA murder victim
A prison officer sent "evil and sadistic" anonymous letters to the son of murdered Brian Stack, pretending to be an IRA member and telling him his father had deserved to suffer.
John Cooney (57) sent the sick mail as part of a poison pen campaign against members of the prison service after he became frustrated about his promotion prospects.
Austin Stack, now a prison governor, was among 13 people in the service - mostly superior in rank - who were targeted over several years by Cooney, a court heard.
Among the litany of abusive correspondence were:
- A letter to Mr Stack saying his father "deserved to be in pain" and it was a waste of State money investigating his killing;
- A rant where a female prison officer was sent abusive messages when she was ill;
- An obscene 40th birthday card sent to one prison officer;
- A letter sent to another prison officer branded him a "Finglas scummer" and a "dirt bird".
Most of the contents of the letters were not read out to the court as the judge deemed them too "vile and depraved".
Brian Stack, who was chief prison officer at Portlaoise Jail, suffered brain damage when he was shot by the IRA in 1983 and died 18 months later.
Mr Stack said he felt "re-traumatised" by the three abusive letters sent by Cooney.
Judge Cormac Dunne said Cooney had shown "excessive cruelty" and jailed him for a year, with another eight months suspended. He was released on bail shortly after, pending an appeal of the sentence.
Cooney, of Colthurst Road, Huntington Glen, Lucan, pleaded guilty to nine charges of sending indecent, obscene, offensive or menacing letters and five of harassment between 2011 and 2015.
Mr Stack told Dublin District Court he started receiving letters around the time gardai began making headway in the investigation into his father's murder.
The first letter arrived at Wheatfield Prison, where he worked. The others followed months later.
The author pretended to be from the IRA and it became obvious he had worked with him in St Patrick's Institution.
The letters stated that Mr Stack's father "deserved to be in pain" for the 18 months before his death.
"It was vile stuff, like my father deserved to linger, he deserved what he got, he was a bad man," Mr Stack told the judge. "I didn't like thinking about those 18 months when my father was like that. When you get a letter like that it brings you straight back to that time.
"I was watching my back. I thought: 'Is this person working with me? Am I being followed home?'. I didn't know who I could trust in the prison service."
Mr Stack said he did not tell his mother the contents of the letter as it would have "completely destroyed her".
Mr William Canavan said he received a 40th birthday card with what the court heard was an "obscene, vile" message.
He said he was "disgusted" and could not figure out why he had received it.
"It made me quite paranoid amongst my colleagues. It was obviously someone I had worked with," he said.
When he found out who was responsible, it annoyed him because he had "never had a cross word" with Cooney.
Mr Anthony Redmond said he was assistant chief officer at St Patrick's before transferring to Mountjoy, where he received a letter calling him a "dirt bird", "worm or maggot", and a "Finglas scummer".
"You want to know who among the workforce would want to be so hurtful, malicious and damaging to you both professionally and personally," he said.
Defence barrister Paul Finnegan said Cooney accepted his behaviour was "an utterly unacceptable, unwarranted and inexcusable trespass on the lives of these people who were going about their work". He apologised to all concerned.
Judge Dunne said some letters stood out more in their "nastiness and harrowing personal persecution".
The letters sent to Mr Stack were "sinister and anguishing" and concerned "one of the most horrible events in our recent history, which is the murder by the IRA of his father".
The letter to the female officer was "aggressively vile, obscene, lewd and crude", he added.
"To author such a document and to conceive the contents of such a document from the human mind is certainly depraved, evil, callous and hard-hearted," the judge said.
A probation report stated that Cooney's father had died, his mother was in a rest home and he was concerned about his sister's welfare at the time.
He was on bad terms with one of his brothers over a land dispute and he believed that promotion procedures in the prison service were flawed.
Cooney was under stress and the report inferred that sending the letters gave him "some sort of sadistic, cruel release or pleasure in the discomfort of others", Judge Dunne said.