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Saturday 21 April 2018

Poison pen prison officer's jail stretch quashed

John Cooney
John Cooney

A prison officer who mounted an "evil and sadistic" poison pen campaign against the son of murdered Brian Stack has successfully appealed against his one-year jail sentence.

John Cooney (57) admitted sending letters to jail chief Austin Stack, pretending to be an IRA member and telling him his father deserved to suffer.

Mr Stack was among 13 prison staff sent hate mail.

Judge Cormac Dunne gave Cooney a 20-month sentence in February, the last eight months of which were suspended.

However, Cooney appealed against that sentence and his case was re-heard by the President of the Circuit Court, Judge Raymond Groarke, who allowed the appeal and ordered Cooney to carry out 240 hours of community service in lieu of the jail sentence.

Mr Stack's father, Brian, who was Chief Prison Officer at Port- laoise Prison, was shot by the IRA in 1983. He suffered brain damage and died 18 months later.

Mr Stack had said he felt "re-traumatised" by the letters.

Separately, a female prison worker was told by Cooney in a letter that she had cancer because of "promiscuous conduct". Another officer was sent an obscene 40th birthday card.

Cooney, of Colthurst Road, Huntington Glen, Lucan, admitted nine charges of sending indecent, obscene or menacing letters and five of harassment between 2011 and 2015.

Previously, governor Austin Stack told Dublin District Court that he began receiving letters when gardai began making headway in the investigation into his father's murder.

Vile

The first arrived at his workplace in Wheatfield Prison. The others followed months later.

The author pretended to be from the IRA, but it became obvious that 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. The author wrote that it was a waste of state money for gardai to be investigating his father's death.

"It was vile stuff, like my father deserved to linger, he deserved what he got, he was a bad man," said Mr Stack.

"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."

He said he did not tell his mother about the letters because it would have "destroyed her".

Paul Finnegan, defending, 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".

The court heard that Cooney's father had died, his mother was in a rest home and he was on bad terms with one of his brothers.

Cooney had made one unsuccessful attempt to get promotion in 1998 and believed the promotion procedure in the prison service were flawed.

Judge Dunne said the letters had given Cooney "some sort of sadistic, cruel release or pleasure in the discomfort of others".

Cooney said the letters became an addiction as he felt a release of his frustrations.

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