Belfast Telegraph

Accused's DNA found at Tyrone hotel murder scene but not on weapon, court told

Shot dead: John Stephen Knocker
Shot dead: John Stephen Knocker

bBy Michael Donnelly

The trial of a west Belfast man accused of the 'revenge execution' of a man in an hotel car park over two decades ago has heard while his DNA was found at the scene, nothing was recovered from the gun alleged to have been used in the shooting.

Belfast Crown Court has already heard that 55-year-old Francis 'Studs' Lanigan, fled to Dublin in the wake of the shooting of 22-year-old John Stephen Knocker outside the former Glengannon Hotel outside Dungannon on May 31, 1998.

The gun used in the shooting, a Browing 9mm pistol, was recovered three days later on the road between the Co Antrim village of Crumlin, and Belfast. The getaway car, a Vauxhall Cavalier, was found abandoned in north Belfast.

Lanigan, who lived for 15 years working as a barber under the assumed name of 'Ciaran McCrory', and with an address in Delhurst Terrace, Clonsilla, west Dublin, denies murder and possessing the military-type pistol.

The prosecution claim he carried out the shooting in revenge for Mr Knocker attacking and beating him up just moments prior to his death.

Yesterday Mr Justice Horner, sitting alone without a jury in the Diplock-style trial, heard from two former senior scientific officers from Northern Ireland Forensic Science, who carried out tests on the various items recovered during the police investigation into the shooting.

The initial test were carried out in October 1998, from which DNA profiles were obtained from a number of samples, including some from Mr Knocker, the turnstile gate and cage, a wall, and stones from the hotel car park, and from inside the Cavalier car.

However, it was not until Forensic Science obtained a sample taken from Mr Lanigan in Dublin, that a DNA link with the materials could be made, and the evidence of the DNA profiling allegedly supported the proposition he was involved in the murder of Mr Knocker.

The court also heard given the combination of the characteristics of the DNA, it was to be expected the number of males unrelated to Mr Lanigan, being the source would be between one in 400,000 to one in a billion of the population.

However, no DNA, or blood, or any other samples were found on the alleged murder weapon, which had a grooved butt handle, that the defence suggested could have held, or provided samples for DNA testing.

In particular since the alleged gunman, who was bleeding, was said to have been running with the weapon in hand.

It was said the weapon may have been cleaned, and in addition it had been "left out in the elements for sometime".

The defence said that photographs of the weapon showed "an accumulation of material" embedded in the handle which may have retained DNA material.

And while there was a potential, a possibility, for material to be caught in the "crevices" within the handle, and although the weapon was examined for traces of blood, nothing was found.

However, it could not be determined if the actual handle was examined for blood or any other samples which may have provided a DNA profile of sorts.

Notes taken at the time indicated that while tests were carried out, they did not indicate which areas of the Browning were tested. There was also no record of the butt handle being subjected to microscopic examination for blood traces.

The trial heard that while there have been advances in DNA testing, and in theory it could be retested now, it was unlikely to provide a DNA match.

This was due to the uncertainty of what other tests, such as fingerprinting, were carried out, and by whom and in what conditions the pistol has been kept and stored in since.

The trial will continue today.

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