Sister of man who died in Garda van calls for change in welfare protocols

Shane Burke was found unresponsive in a holding cell in Limerick in 2022

The Garda Commissioner has been urged to introduce new procedures to ensure regular checks of people in Garda vehicles. Photograph: Alan Betson

The sister of a man who died in the back of a Garda custody van has warned that others may die in similar circumstances unless protocols are introduced around welfare checks in Garda vehicles.

Jennifer Burke Stack said she would call on the Garda Commissioner to introduce new procedures to ensure regular checks of people in Garda vehicles.

Ms Burke Stack issued the warning following the inquest into the death of her brother, Shane Burke, who was found unresponsive in a holding cell in a Garda van after travelling in it for an hour.

A verdict of misadventure was returned by the inquest jury at Limerick Coroner’s Court on Wednesday.


Mr Burke, of Tralee, Co Kerry, was found unresponsive in the Garda van’s holding cell after it had travelled from Newcastle West to Rathkeale, then to Henry Street Garda station, Limerick city, on February 23rd, 2022.

Mr Burke was arrested after he was found intoxicated and a danger to himself and others and had refused a request by gardaí to get into the van’s holding cell.

Gardaí told the inquest they were bringing Mr Burke (43) to Rathkeale Garda station to allow him to “sleep it off” until a loved one collected him.

However, when the van got to Rathkeale gardaí were informed that Mr Burke should be brought to Henry Street Garda station in Limerick city because facilities for prisoners there were better.

Gardaí said they visually and audibly checked on Mr Burke and they were satisfied that he was okay.

However, when the van arrived at Henry Street Garda station, gardaí found Mr Burke unresponsive and without a pulse in the cell.

The inquest heard that it was unclear how long he had not been checked for, due to an issue with a timestamp on a CCTV system in the Garda van.

Gardaí said they had not received training in how to use the CCTV screen in the front of the vanthat would have shown them the holding cell in the rear of the van.

Seats positioned in between the driver and the cell, which would have allowed a closer view of the cell, were not used during the journey.

Gardaí performed CPR at the scene and Mr Burke was transferred by ambulance from Henry Street station to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Gardaí agreed they had a “duty of care to check” prisoners in the van but they were “not aware” of any official procedures around this.

State Pathologist Dr Sally Anne Collis, who conducted a postmortem on Mr Burke, determined he had suffered cardiac arrest and died due to acute alcohol and benzodiazepine intoxication.

Elaine Houlihan, junior counsel acting for Jennifer Burke Stack, asked the jury to make a recommendation that it would be mandatory for gardaí to make regular physical welfare checks on people in custody in Garda vehicles.

Procedures under the Criminal Justice Act 1984 (Treatment of Persons in Custody in Garda Síochána Stations) Regulations 1987 and 2006, state that gardaí must keep an accurate custody record of prisoners in cells in Garda stations and must adhere to regular welfare checks of intoxicated prisoners to ensure their safety.

Dan O’Gorman, solicitor acting for the Garda witnesses, however argued that “the gardaí are almost over-regulated”.

Coroner John McNamara said Mr Burke was a “vulnerable” man, and he said there was no suggestion gardaí had not acted properly.

Speaking afterwards, Jennifer Burke Stack said she was happy with the jury’s verdict but “disappointed” it did not act on her barrister’s submission.

“I was very appreciative of the jury’s decision but I was extremely unhappy that they did not garner from this inquest that it was made clear by the gardaí present that there are absolutely zero regulations in place, for anybody who gets into the back of a Garda van and is locked in.”

Ms Burke Stack said she would always be left wondering if her brother might not have died had he been checked by gardaí more regularly during the latter stages of the journey.

Ms Burke Stack said she believed gardaí on the day did the best they could, with the training they had, but that the system is “not good enough”.