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INLA hitman Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan one of Northern Ireland's most ruthless killers, say police


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Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan

Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan

John Knocker - murdered in 1998 outside Exit 15 nightclub Dungannon.

John Knocker - murdered in 1998 outside Exit 15 nightclub Dungannon.

Gino Gallagher

Gino Gallagher

Samuel Rock Killed by the INLA 1993

Samuel Rock Killed by the INLA 1993

Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan

INLA hitman Frankie 'Studs' Lanigan has been linked to the killings of three innocent civilians in the months before the 1994 republican and loyalist ceasefires.

The 56-year-old, who will find out later this week how long he has to spend in prison for the murder of John Knocker, is said to have played a direct role in the deaths of Samuel Rock, John Murphy and Jack Smyth. All three were gunned down by the INLA between 1993 and 1994.

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John Knocker - murdered in 1998 outside Exit 15 nightclub Dungannon.

John Knocker - murdered in 1998 outside Exit 15 nightclub Dungannon.

John Knocker - murdered in 1998 outside Exit 15 nightclub Dungannon.

At the time Lanigan, along with Gino Gallagher who was killed during an internal INLA feud, was the terror gang's main assassin in Belfast.

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Gino Gallagher

Gino Gallagher

Gino Gallagher

Barber turned hitman Lanigan confessed to his role as a gunman in a statement provided to a Dublin court prior to his extradition back to Belfast to stand trial for the 1998 murder of Knocker outside a Dungannon nightclub.

What he was careful not to admit to were the specifics of the shootings in which he was involved.

However, both security and republican sources have linked him directly to the Rock, Murphy and Smyth murders either as the main or back-up gunman.

In his signed Dublin court affidavit, Lanigan revealed: "Most of my friends who were active INLA members were reluctant to do operations without me, asking 'Will Frankie be there?'

"I was starting to burn out from the pace of things. I wore body armour every day and could not live a normal life."

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Samuel Rock Killed by the INLA 1993

Samuel Rock Killed by the INLA 1993

Samuel Rock Killed by the INLA 1993

Innocent Samuel Rock, who is known to have been Lanigan's first victim, was gunned down outside his Rosewood Street home in north Belfast in January 1993.

The INLA targeted the 30-year-old having mistook him for a member of Johnny Adair's UDA gang. Samuel had bought a car from a prominent loyalist several weeks before.

Six months later Lanigan, alongside Gino Gallagher, is believed to have helped murder Catholic ex-RUC officer John Murphy (38) at the York Hotel on Botanic Avenue in the university area of the city.

Two gunmen, neither of them wearing masks, forced their way inside past security staff. Lanigan is suspected of holding the doormen at rifle-point while Gallagher sought out and killed Murphy, shooting him three times.

His third target is understood to have been Jack Smyth, a 23-year-old bouncer who was shot dead at Bob Cratchit's bar at the Russell Court complex on the Lisburn Road where the hitman occasionally socialised.

Again, it was two INLA gunmen who ran into the packed premises in February 1994 with one giving cover with a shotgun, while his Halloween mask-wearing co-killer hunted down his victim.

In the weeks leading up to the killing, Smyth - a well-known bodybuilder from the Shankill Road - had been warned he was under threat.

In a telephone call to his workplace, an anonymous male referred to him as both 'John' and 'Jack', adding to suspicions that Lanigan, who sometimes drank in Bob Cratchit's, was involved.

A former detective, who arrested Lanigan on several occasions, described him as one of Northern Ireland's most ruthless killers.

He told Sunday Life: "Lanigan showed absolutely no emotion during questioning.

"The streets of Northern Ireland are a lot safer with Frankie Lanigan behind bars.

"The families of those he murdered in the 1990s should take some comfort from the fact that he will likely die in prison."

It was after killing John Knocker in 1998 that Lanigan fled across the border living under a new identity and working as a barber until his arrest in 2013. He was extradited back to Northern Ireland in 2018 and convicted of the Knocker murder last month.

There are suspicions that while living in the south Lanigan operated as a hitman for hire, with the family of drug dealer Kevin McAlorum accusing him of shooting dead their relative in 2004.

At a pre-sentence hearing at Belfast Crown Court last Monday a prosecution lawyer recommended he receives a minimum 20-year jail sentence. Lanigan's defence team are pushing for a 12-year term, with Mr Justice Horner set to decide tomorrow. The judge was told how the killer shot Knocker twice after losing a fist fight to the 22-year-old. Humiliated, he took a Browning 9mm from a car and chased after his victim blasting him in the head.

Mr Justice Horner branded the murder "an appalling act of barbarous inhumanity".

Despite being found guilty of murder Lanigan is adamant he was not the gunman who murdered Knocker. He admits to being at the scene but denies firing the fatal shots, telling Irish detectives after his arrest: "In May 1998 I was attacked outside the Glengannon Hotel and, arising from that, John Knocker lost his life."

When sentencing Lanigan, Mr Justice Horner will also take into consideration his previous criminal record that includes a 10-year jail term for conspiracy to murder police officers in the 1980s.

In signed court papers he admits joining the Provisional IRA aged 17 and then the INLA aged 19.

Referring to his role in numerous gun attacks, Lanigan added: "During my teens and arising from my political outlook, I came into regular contact with Her Majesty's security forces."

He fell out with the INLA in the mid-1990s and was kneecapped on the orders of his former friend Gino Gallagher.

This led to Lanigan siding with a rival INLA faction during a 1996 internal feud that claimed six lives including that of Gallagher.

Fearing arrest over the Knocker murder and with his side losing the bloody INLA dispute, he fled south to start a new life in Dublin as barber 'Ciaran McCrory'.

cbarnes@sundaylife.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph