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INLA man Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan must serve at least 20 years for 'callous' murder in 1998

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Frankie ‘Studs’ Lanigan was a fugitive from justice for two decades after shooting dead John Knocker in the car park of a Co Tyrone nightclub

Frankie ‘Studs’ Lanigan was a fugitive from justice for two decades after shooting dead John Knocker in the car park of a Co Tyrone nightclub

John Knocker

John Knocker

Frankie ‘Studs’ Lanigan was a fugitive from justice for two decades after shooting dead John Knocker in the car park of a Co Tyrone nightclub

An INLA gunman who hid out for more than a decade as a Dublin barber will serve at least 20 years in prison for murdering a defenceless man.

Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan was sentenced yesterday for what a judge described as a callous and cold-hearted killing.

The victim of the 1998 murder was 22-year-old John Stephen Knocker, who had bettered him in a fight outside the former Glengannon Hotel outside Dungannon.

Yesterday trial judge Mr Justice Horner told Lanigan that the murder of Mr Knocker was an "act of barbarous inhumanity".

He said that Lanigan had chosen to parade in front of patrons who were leaving the late night disco "revelling in his infamy".

Given the Covid-19 pandemic Lanigan, formerly of Knockmore Square in Lisburn, Co Antrim, appeared before the Belfast Crown Court sentencing hearing via video-link from Maghaberry Prison.

John Knocker

Mr Justice Horner said he had read the "heartbreaking statements" of Mr Knocker's partner, who was pregnant at the time of his murder, and his daughter, who was born after his brutal killing and is now aged 20.

"Their stories are immensely moving, telling of the terrible times they have both suffered as a consequence of the cold-hearted and callous murder of John Stephen Knocker," he noted.

"His partner lost her soulmate. Following his murder she lived in fear and suffered enormous mental upset and anxiety. Her only means of coping was to leave Ireland behind and all her family and friends."

The judge said the murder had sentenced her to a "life of misery, trapped in a nightmare that has lasted for 21 years".

The court heard that Mr Knocker's daughter has also suffered mental health issues as a result of his killing and "continues to be haunted by the spectre of her father's murder".

Mr Justice Horner said a statement from the deceased's mother had described in "moving detail" how his savage murder had left a "broken family mired in grief for all-time".

"It is important to remember that when the defendant shot at point-blank range into the defenceless and prone Mr Knocker, not only did he extinguish his life, he blighted and continues to blight the lives of the loved ones he left behind," said the judge.

Mr Justice Horner remarked that Lanigan was intent on taking Mr Knocker's life.

He said that as Mr Knocker lay prone on the ground, the defendant "fired a shot at him at point-blank range... make death a certainty".

The judge outlined a series of aggravating factors including that Lanigan had a loaded gun available to him on the night of the murder, he knew how to use it, and after not fighting back against Mr Knocker had decided to "wait and exact a bloody revenge" in front of patrons.

"This was not a spur of the moment impulse," the judge added.

"This was a calculated decision to use a gun against a defencless man in full view of members of the public and so demonstrate to any onlookers who was the boss."

Lanigan had a previous conviction for possession of a firearm with intent and received a 10-year sentence, which the judge noted had "singularly failed to act as a deterrent to this future offending".

Mr Justice Horner further noted that Lanigan had shown a "complete lack of remorse" for the murder of Mr Knocker, "which was a cold and calculated decision to take another person's life".

He fixed the minimum term before Lanigan would be eligible to apply to the Parole Commissioners for release as 20 years in prison.

Lanigan also received a 14-year concurrent sentence for possession of the Browning pistol he used that night.

As Mr Justice Horner finished his tariff sentencing, Lanigan could be heard telling a prison officer in the Maghaberry video unit: "Is that it finished? Let's go. I'm going to be in here for the next 20 years."

Fleeing to Dublin, assuming the pseudonym of 'Ciaran McCrory' and working as a barber at the Carlisle Gym complex in Terenure in the south of the city, Lanigan was unmasked in an undercover Garda surveillance operation.

The trial heard that Lanigan's DNA was found on the rim of a discarded coffee cup seized during the covert operation before his detention on foot of a European Arrest Warrant.

He spent the next six years fighting his extradition during which he revealed in an affidavit to being involved in INLA operations and "an incident" in which Mr Knocker "lost his life".

Belfast Telegraph