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Life for killer Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan who shot John Knocker outside Tyrone hotel 22 years ago

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Gunned down: John Knocker

Gunned down: John Knocker

Gunned down: John Knocker

A man who carried out a "bloody revenge killing" outside a Co Tyrone hotel has been sentenced to life in prison.

Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan was yesterday convicted at Belfast Crown Court of shooting John Stephen Knocker in May 1998.

Lanigan fled to the Irish Republic after the shooting and spent six years fighting extradition.

Mr Justice Horner told the 56-year-old there was "overwhelming" evidence that he shot Mr Knocker (22) "to prove who was the boss" in the car park of the Glengannon Hotel outside Dungannon.

Despite denials that he was the gunman Lanigan was convicted of carrying out what the judge described as "an appalling act of barbarous inhumanity."

Lanigan was found guilty of murdering Mr Knocker and of possessing a 9mm Browning pistol. Mr Justice Horner said that after examining all the evidence he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of Lanigan's guilt.

Mr Justice Horner said that after Mr Knocker bettered Lanigan in a fight, Lanigan armed himself with the Browning then chased Mr Knocker, firing a shot at long range which brought Mr Knocker to the ground.

The judge continued: "He then coldly and callously finished him off by firing a bullet at point blank range into his brain. It was a savage and barbaric act, devoid of any pity.

"Far from being ashamed of what he had done, the defendant gloried in this appalling act. In retrospect the defendant's passivity when under attack from John Knocker must have concealed a resolve for bloody revenge, which he was determined to exact in front of all those who had witnessed his humiliation.

"By murdering John Knocker in full view of all those onlookers no doubt the defendant thought he had proved if not to himself, then to onlookers, who was the boss."

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

Also watching via a special live-link with Laganside Courthouse were members of Mr Knocker's family.

They listened as Mr Justice Horner told Lanigan that a tariff hearing would be held on June 8 to determine how much of his life sentence he must serve before being considered for release.

Lanigan, who admitted during his extradition proceedings to being involved in an "incident" in which Mr Knocker "lost his life", had denied his murder and possessing the Browning pistol used in the shooting outside the Glengannon Hotel in the early hours of May 31, 1998.

The defence claimed the case against Lanigan was riddled with inconsistencies, including widely ranging descriptions of the gunman made by eyewitnesses.

However, the prosecution maintained he could be connected to the shooting carried out in revenge for the fight.

Both had been at the Exit 15 nightclub and CCTV footage played at his trial showed a man in grey, who had started the fight, being repeatedly punched and kicked about the body and head by a man in red.

Witnesses described frantic attempts by this man to get back into the nightclub before being pursued by the man in grey, firing at him as he ran across the car park and roadway outside, before being shot twice to the head.

Lanigan then escaped in a waiting Vauxhall Cavalier car along with three others including a blonde woman, who had shouted a warning to onlookers: "Nobody seen nothing."

The pistol was later recovered on the road between Crumlin and Belfast, while the Vauxhall was found abandoned in north Belfast.

In the aftermath of the shooting Lanigan fled to the Republic where he lived under the assaumed name of 'Ciaran McCrory' at an address at Delhurst Terrace, Clonsilla, west Dublin, while working as a barber at the Carlisle Gym complex in Terenure.

He was eventually unmasked in a covert operation by Garda tasked to help find him.

Belfast Telegraph