Northern Ireland news

Judgment reserved in Francis 'Studs' Lanigan case

Francis Lanigan leaving court in Dublin following an earlier hearing

JUDGEMENT has been reserved in the trial of Francis 'Studs' Lanigan who is accused of the murder of doorman John Stephen Knocker more than 20 years ago.

Lanigan has been on trial, and denies, the murder of Mr Knocker who was shot dead with a Browning pistol at the Glengannon Hotel in Dunganon, Co Tyrone, in the early hours of May 31, 1998.

The 55-year-old, formerly of Knockmore Square in Lisburn, Co Antrim, further denies possessing the 9 mm pistol used in the murder and a quantity of ammunition with intent to danger life on the same date.

It is the prosecution case that the defendant was beaten up by Mr Knocker outside a nightclub at the hotel after he was refused admission.

The prosecution further claimed that Lanigan then followed Mr Knocker across the hotel car park and shot the 22-year-old twice to the head, once at point blank range, because he had gotten the better of him.

The trial heard that Lanigan later fled to Dublin where he lived under the assumed name of 'Ciaran McCrory' before he was tracked down by Gardai in a covert operation to the Carlisle Gym complex in Terenure, south Dublin where he was working as a barber.

His DNA, the court heard, was recovered from on the rim of a discarded coffee cup seized during the undercover operation.

Today, senior counsel for the prosecution and defence made oral submissions at Belfast Crown Court to trial judge Mr Justice Horner at the non-jury Diplock style hearing.

In written submissions to the court, Mr Justice Horner said Lanigan's defence had raised questions about evidence of a number of witnesses at the scene and whether evidence about the description of Lanigan's facial injuries could be relied upon.

A senior prosecution QC told the judge that a number of witnesses had seen Lanigan with a cut to his head and blood on his face.

He said Lanigan's DNA was found at the scene of the shooting. It was also found on Mr Knocker and also in the front seat of the car used to transport Lanigan away from the scene.

Although DNA was "neutral'' on the recovered firearm, the lawyer told the court that it had heard the evidence of Nuala Delaney who was with the defendant on the night of the shooting.

She had told the trial that she, Lanigan, Cathy Keenan and Martin Anthony Fox left the car park in Fox's vehicle after the shooting.

Giving her evidence via video link from a court in the Republic last December, Ms Delaney told the hearing: "I could see Frankie was sitting with a gun on his lap in between his two hands. He wasn't saying anything.

"I remember saying to myself: 'He is crazy. He is going to kill us all'. I took the gun off him and put it at my feet.''

The prosecution QC said that Lanigan was involved in an attempt to hide the murder weapon, moved from house to house after the murder "before fleeing the jurisdiction''.

Ms Delaney told the December hearing that she was with Lanigan as they moved from house to house after the murder.

She recalled they later went to a bed and breakfast where a friend of Lanigan's brought them a change of clothes.

She said that the pair later moved to Dublin where they stayed in a house together for a couple of months before she went off on her own.

Asked by the prosecution what was the reason for "moving from place to place after the incident'', Ms Delaney replied: "I don't remember asking but obviously because Frankie had murdered somebody and he needed to lie low and stay away.''

Defence counsel Patrick Lyttle QC described Ms Delaney as a "woman scorned'' who "had a lot to gain'' from giving evidence against the defendant.

He told the court there were contradictions in the prosecution case from witnesses who had given descriptions of the defendant on the night of May 31, 1998, adding that the prosecution had not addressed these inconsistencies.

However, the senior prosecutor rejected that there were any contradictions and added that Ms Delaney had "exposed herself as a witness at the trial and told the truth''.

Reserving judgement, Mr Justice Horner said: "I will give my ruling as quickly as I can. I do understand the urgency of this.''

Lanigan was remanded back into custody to await the ruling.

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