Belfast Telegraph

'Bangs like fireworks' before man fell to the ground, John Knocker murder trial told

John Knocker was shot dead in 1998
John Knocker was shot dead in 1998

By Michael Donnelly

The trial of a Belfast man who fled to Dublin in the aftermath of a man being shot dead outside the nightclub of a Co Tyrone hotel yesterday heard eyewitness accounts of what the prosecution claim was a revenge execution.

The witnesses, including several of the patrons of the former Glengannon Hotel, a bus driver and a passing motorist, told Belfast Crown Court of hearing "bangs like fireworks" after seeing a man in a red top being chased by a man in grey.

The prosecution claim the man in grey was 55-year-old Francis 'Studs' Lanigan, extradited from Dublin last January, where he had been living under an assumed name for over 15 years after the shooting of 22-year-old John Stephen Knocker on May 31, 1998.

Refreshing their memory from their original police statements, various witnesses told Mr Justice Horner, sitting alone without a jury in the Diplock-style trial, of seeing a disturbance and a scuffle involving two men before the man in red, alleged to be Mr Knocker, ran from the hotel carpark, followed by the man in grey.

A former Ulsterbus driver who was at the hotel to collect a group of party-goers told of seeing the two men before hearing "three or four cracks ... like bangers, firework bangers".

He also told of how when he saw "the male in the red top had dropped to the road, I heard the loud bang and, looking up, saw he was falling after the first couple of cracks".

The driver said the man in grey "looked to have something in his hand... it looked to be a gun... he was holding it down to his side when I looked across".

He added later that when the gunman reached the man in red, he was "lying on the road, he wasn't moving, he was badly injured". The gunman "then reached down with his left hand and moved the fellow's head. I took it he shot him again I heard a crack".

A woman who had been at the Exit 15 Nightclub with friends said she was sitting waiting to be driven home when she "heard something like fireworks ... and then someone said that someone had been shot".

She also told the court that she had seen a man in a red top "running very, very quickly" from the hotel carpark, followed by another man.

"I heard another shot, then I saw the person in the red top fall to the ground... then the other person walked up towards the other person on the ground, then I heard another shot," said the woman, who admitted she did not actually see shots being fired.

However, what the gunman did next was both shocking and bizarre to her.

"The male with the gun was walking slowly down the road, taking his time. The gun was in his hand, sort of leaning on his shoulder," she said.

"I was quite shocked. He didn't seem to be in a hurry. He was quite relaxed and taking his time... (he) just took it at his leisure. I found it very bizarre.

Another party-goer said she and friends "took the long way round" to their lift after seeing two men fighting.

As they waited to be picked up, she heard someone shouting behind them "to get down, this is serious... I thought it was an odd thing to say".

She added that she saw a man in a red top "running fast" and another man who was also running.

However, she told the court that since that night, "I have spent a long time trying to forget about it".

A passing motorist who told the court of hearing "three bangs" described seeing a man in blue jeans and a red top who almost ran into her car before running up the road.

She said as she drove on down past the hotel entrance, "I thought what's this? And I looked over to the car behind the fence and there was a man standing there with a gun in his hand with his arms stretched out holding his wrist".

"To me, he seemed very calm. He seemed to be standing there quite calmly," she added.

In the aftermath of the shooting, some witnesses also described how a blonde woman had shouted to the crowd of onlookers, "Nobody seen nothing", before she and the gunman eventually got into a getaway car, which was attacked by some of the crowd who pelted it with stones and bottles as it drove off at speed, its wheels spinning.

The trial continues.

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