Irene White killing: The horrific murder of a mother and an unfinished fight for justice
The killing of Irene White led to an investigation that spanned the globe — and still leaves a vital unanswered question, writes Maeve Sheehan
Weeks before she was murdered, Irene White's electronic gates stopped working. She was separated and lived alone with her three children in their detached home in Dundalk and was security conscious.
According to her sister Anne, their mother Maureen had moved into a mobile home in the garden to be near her. Irene wanted the gates fixed, so who better to ask than her long-standing family friend, Niall Power, a security specialist from Riverstown, Dundalk, who had often sat at her kitchen table.
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She noted the broken gates in her diary, and that she asked him numerous times to come. But Power never came. Irene could not have known that the broken gates would play an important part in Power's plan for her murder.
On the morning of April 6, 2005, Anthony Lambe, then a 22-year-old student and part-time bouncer for Power, approached Irene's door. He would later tell gardai that it was Power who told him to say that her gate was open, to disarm her. He claimed that Power had given him the layout of the house and told him what time Irene was likely to get back from dropping her three children to school.
And he said it was Power who told him to stab Irene twice in the heart to make sure she was dead. Lambe went beyond his instructions, stabbing Irene 34 times and cutting her throat, before fleeing out through the back door.
Irene's body was discovered by her mother Maureen who dropped in on her at 12.30pm. She lay in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, still wearing her orange washing-up gloves. The killer had left a trail of bloody footprints from the house to the garden wall he'd leapt over in his escape. There was little other evidence but there were suspects. While Lambe would later claim he was acting on Power's instructions, Power claimed he acted on the instructions of a third person known as the "Mastermind" who was the person who wanted Irene dead. Gardai suspected each man was motivated by money.
Lambe was promised a payment of €25,000 and Power was to be rewarded in business. They suspected at least three other people had information relevant to the murder investigation.
All maintained their pact of silence for years, ensuring that the murder of Irene White (43) remained one of the most baffling and violent of unsolved crimes against women for more than a decade - until the testimony of an old friend of Lambe who had emigrated to Australia delivered him up as the unlikely killer.
By then a mature student at Maynooth University, Lambe was convicted of Irene's murder and sentenced to life in January 2018. The conviction last week of Power (46) for his role in her murder marked the further erosion of the secrecy that protected the conspirators for years.
Irene White's sister, Anne Delcassian, who has terminal cancer, was too ill to be in court for Power's sentencing but hopes she will live to see the circle close on the "Mastermind" behind the murder.
One of Anne's recurring questions is: why it has taken so long?
In a statement to the Sunday Independent, sent to us by her family, she said: "Irene had reported being threatened to the Garda prior to her murder. She was worried for her own safety, and that of her children. Irene was frightened, even more so when the security gates at her home were disabled before her murder."
She continued: "As someone known to Irene, Niall Power abused a position of trust. Niall Power worked in security, and Irene wrote in her diaries that she pleaded with Niall Power to fix the security gates. Instead, knowing the gates were disabled, he organised for Anthony Lambe to attack Irene at home. It's difficult to believe that Niall Power then continued to live in Irene's home town, nearby to her motherless children, carrying on as normal over the last decade."
Niall Power was suspected from the start of having some role in Irene's murder. He was a friend of the "Mastermind" who was suspected even then of orchestrating the murder. At that time, Power was in his early 30s and doing well in business. He also knew his way around the security at Irene's house. At that early stage of the inquiry, detectives had no leads on who had carried out the killing. Both Power and the "Mastermind" were arrested in 2006, Power for withholding information. Both men were released without charge.
Although they didn't know it then, gardai had actually interviewed Irene's killer. Anthony Lambe featured in the early investigation because his number came up on Niall Power's phone on the morning of Irene's murder. But as one of Power's doormen, this wouldn't have been unusual.
Gardai accepted his explanation that he was in Castleblaney, where is originally from, at the time she was killed. On the evening of Irene's murder, he flew to the UK with his girlfriend, which also checked out. The case came to a standstill.
From her home in the UK, Anne Delcassian kept the pressure on gardai to solve the case, keeping her sister in the public eye with anniversary vigils. In 2010, she turned her relentless focus on the relatively new Serious Crime Review Team - the cold case unit.
Christy Mangan, who was senior investigating officer with the unit at the time, recalled Anne Delcassian waiting outside his offices on Harcourt Street with a bag of scones, butter and jam, to cajole him to take on Irene's case. "She asked me to make the tea," he recalled. "We had a frank discussion… She was giving it to me, telling me she is unhappy, in a calm voice explaining how certain lines of inquiry were not followed up. But investigators can't tell families all of their lines of inquiry," he said. "And sometimes lines of inquiry run aground, they just go no further."
The Serious Crime Review Team took on Irene's case, an exacting process of reviewing all of the evidence in search of "further investigative opportunities" that took more than two years. The breakthrough came when an old friend of Lambe's, now living in Australia, saw a television appeal and responded. She told detectives that, at Christmas 2005, Anthony Lambe came to her house and told her he murdered Irene White. She told gardai that she didn't know whether to believe him or not and was also fearful. Although she rang in twice, she didn't reveal her identity and detectives couldn't trace her phone number.
Locating her was a priority for Inspector Pat Marry and his officers when the Serious Crime Review Team sent back its voluminous report in 2015, listing some 300 recommendations to be followed up. Marry, author of The Making of a Detective, which will be published in September, is now retired. He recalled how they eventually found the woman on Lambe's Facebook page. Working off her statement, in which she said she'd been to the Gaeltacht and at the same gym as Lambe, and with some local Monaghan knowledge, they were able to pinpoint her identity. When two detectives were dispatched to Australia in 2016, they found her ready to make a statement.
A second girl came forward in 2016. She told gardai that she was in a group in a pub that Christmas of 2005. When the Irene White case came on the television news, he said that he was responsible for it. The group thought he was joking. Lambe's original story started to fall apart under closer scrutiny.
Having originally told gardai he was in Castleblaney on the morning Irene was murdered, his phone records showed his mobile pinging off a mast in Dundalk. By January 2017, gardai believed they had enough evidence to arrest Lambe at home in Monaghan.
Once his shock passed, his confession tumbled out. "In the first interview, he broke down and told the whole story," said Pat Marry.
He told them how he got roped in. He said he was a student at Dundalk Institute of Technology, he was struggling with personal issues, drinking heavily and taking drugs, and had a €10,000 bank loan hanging over him.
Niall Power was providing security for an event at the college and Lambe said he approached him looking for work as a doorman. Power took him on, and, Marry believes, "manipulated him".
Lambe said Power promised him €25,000 to murder Irene White. Power gave him the instructions on the layout of the house, issued him with the instructions about the broken gate, and even told him how to kill her.
"Niall Power had said to Anthony Lambe, 'just knock on the back door and tell her the gates were open'," said Pat Marry. "His instructions were to stab her twice in the heart. He stabbed her and kept stabbing her."
At Power's sentencing last week, the court heard that he was in the company of the "Mastermind" when Lambe phoned to say: "That job is done."
Power told gardai he was not expecting Lambe to have murdered Irene on that day. He had not expected that Lambe was going to do the murder himself, but thought he would get "other boys" to do it. His sentencing hearing heard that he panicked.
Garda sources say that Power had tickets for a conference in Dublin that morning.
He did not travel down after he heard from Lambe.
Gardai had evidence that Power made a large cash withdrawal from a financial institution and within hours of Irene's murder, he met Lambe at the Dundalk Institute of Technology.
Power handed him an envelope containing €1,000. Lambe took the cash. His then girlfriend would later tell detectives that he was unusually flush with money and "jittery" as they boarded their flight that evening to the UK. Some weeks later, Power gave him another €1,000 but the remainder of the promised €25,000 never materialised.
Lambe later told detectives he struggled with what he had done.
"Anthony Lambe on several occasions came to Dundalk Garda Station to give himself up but pulled out at the last minute," said Pat Marry. He claimed he stopped short of blurting out a confession when he was first interviewed by detectives. "He just didn't do it, but he was very close to it," he said.
Lambe recovered sufficiently to turn his life around. He returned to college as a mature student and studied history and archaeology at Maynooth University and was working towards a PhD at the time of his arrest. Power prospered too. His business survived the recession, he got married and had four children. He also kept Lambe close. According to Irene's sister, Power made Lambe godfather to one of his children four years after Irene was murdered. Gardai suspect this was a way of keeping the younger man under his influence.
The day after Lambe was sentenced in January of last year, Pat Marry was preparing for a conference on another serious crime in the division when he was told Niall Power wanted to see him. He was about to ask Power to call back later when he was told that he wanted to talk about Irene White's murder. He wanted to put his hands up.
"He was there of his own volition, and no one knew that he was there, not even his family. He confessed to everything, conveying himself like a broken man, emotional, who knew that his life as he knew it was about to end," said Pat Marry.
Power told them he had felt pushed around and pressured by the "Mastermind".
Power also knew that Anthony Lambe had named him and that he was next.
In the statement to the Sunday Independent, Anne Delcassian said: "Niall Power is a coward who only handed himself in after Anthony Lambe was convicted and there was new evidence in court."
She questioned why he chose Lambe to be the godfather to his baby. "What sort of person organises the murder of a family friend, and then chooses the murderer to be their child's moral compass?" She condemned the "pact of silence surrounding this case; between Anthony Lambe, Niall Power, and those others responsible for Irene's murder and protecting her killers".
"This fight for justice has consumed me. Since being diagnosed with terminal cancer, I've undergone multiple rounds of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to try and keep fighting long enough to get that justice. We have been told there are no conventional treatment options left, and the doctors say I have weeks left to live.
"I'm determined to keep fighting for as long as I can; our only hope is to try and access experimental immunotherapy to try and extend my life. I may not have much time left. I'm filled with sorrow and anguish that I may not live to see all those responsible held accountable for their actions. I hope I have the strength to keep fighting and live long enough to see them brought to justice for their heinous crimes. I know that if I lose my battle with cancer before then, my family will never stop fighting to achieve my last wish."
To those involved, her message is: "You have hidden long enough, the net is closing in on all those who hold a piece of the puzzle."
Anne plans to sue Anthony Lambe and Niall Power and the third unnamed "Mastermind" for the unlawful killing of her sister. Her solicitor Kevin Winters said: "We are going to issue legal proceedings on behalf of our client against the two people who are convicted of Irene's murder and a third person - who is as yet not before the courts - in the coming weeks."
He also intends to seek records from An Garda Siochana relating to the complaints Irene made prior to her death.
The legacy of Irene's murder has been felt profoundly by her three children, Jennifer, Damhan and Dairine. Jennifer, Irene's eldest child, was 17 at the time of her mother's murder. In her victim impact statement last week, she said their family home was filled with peace, love and laughter in the months before Irene's murder. After her mother's death, she went to live with her grandmother and was separated from her two siblings, who went to live with their father. When her grandmother died, she was again left grieving and alone. She spoke about getting access to her siblings as a light at the end of the tunnel and the bond they, and her young daughter, now have.
In an interview with RTE's Prime Time, Jennifer said she and her siblings will only feel justice when the third man in the conspiracy - the "Mastermind" - is brought before the courts.
Christy Mangan, by coincidence ended up being appointed Chief Superintendent in Louth as the net closed on Irene's killers. He told the Sunday Independent that it was thanks to the public that they had advanced the case this far. He remains determined to close the circle: "We will pursue all of those who we believe to be involved in this murder and who are continuing to live luxurious lifestyles, because of their participation in this crime."