Prison officer's case examined

 

The family of the only prison officer ever assassinated in the Republic are in talks with gardai about reopening the murder files, it emerged today.

Former Portlaoise chief prison officer Brian Stack's widow and children insist his killers are still roaming the streets and are demanding they be brought to justice.

The father-of-three was shot in the back of the neck on March 25 1983, on a busy Dublin street after leaving a boxing contest at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road.

Paralysed and brain-damaged from the shooting, the top-ranking prison officer suffered immensely for a further 18 months before eventually dying from his injuries at the age of 47. Now, almost a quarter of a century after his death his family are urging a fresh investigation under the gardai's recently established Cold Case Unit.

And after talks with Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy, they are meeting with detectives about re-opening the unresolved inquiry. "I want Brian's murder to be looked at properly again," his widow Sheila told journalist Barry Cummins in his new book, Unresolved, which re-examines open murder cases.

"I want to see every available resource being used to get to the truth of who killed him. I want to see every conceivable witness being spoken to again."

An anonymous former colleague, quoted in Unresolved, claimed Mr Stack was probing security at Portlaoise Prison in an attempt to crackdown on contraband and escape bids just before he was shot.

The prison officer chief confided that he may have stumbled upon something that, if true, would rock the state's foundations.

"You knew there was something going on," said Mrs Stack, about her husband's troubled mood in the weeks before he was gunned down.

"There was no question about that. He was thinking to himself a lot at home. He was dwelling on something."

Portlaoise held several notorious IRA and INLA killers at the time of the attack although both groups denied responsibility. Neither the authorities nor the Stack family were convinced by the statements but neither have they ruled out the possibility that an organised crime gang was behind it.

Austin Stack, who followed his father's footsteps into a career as a prison officer, believes that distinctive eyewitness evidence of suspects from the time and other leads need to be revisited.

"The people who did this are still walking the streets," he said. "Due to the callous nature of what they did, it wasn't their first time, and wasn't their last.

"There must be a number of people who know what happened. There must be a certain amount of intelligence with the Gardai, pointing them in some direction."

He insists there could only have been a handful of people in the country at that time capable of such a cold-blooded murder.

"I think a greater effort must be made to solve crimes like this, and that means a cold case unit with a fresh mind, like in other jurisdictions," he said.

"Cases should not be left to just gather dust." Unresolved, which explores nine mysterious murder cases over the last four decades that still remain open, is published this week. Barry Cummins is an award-winning reporter, presently with RTE, and author of two previous best-sellers, Missing and Lifers.