Page last updated at 17:23 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Police 'failed' gangland revenge shooting couple

Joan and John Stirland
The couple moved to Trusthorpe eight months before their deaths

Police failures contributed to the deaths of a couple shot by a gangland hit squad in Lincolnshire in a revenge attack, an inquest jury has decided.

Joan and John Stirland were killed at their home in Trusthorpe in August 2004 in retaliation for a shooting by Mrs Stirland's son.

The Lincoln Crown Court jury returned an unlawful killing verdict after hearing the couple suffered 25 wounds.

They had fled Nottingham after shots were fired at their former home.

The jury heard three weeks of evidence detailing how Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien, had killed a friend of a member of the notorious Gunn family, headed by crime boss Colin.

Police warning

Mrs Stirland, 51, and her 55-year-old husband fled to Trusthorpe eight months before their deaths after shots had been fired at their former home in Carlton, Nottingham.

The jury found Nottinghamshire Police failed to share with their Lincolnshire counterparts, or properly act on, intelligence about the threat posed to the couple by Colin Gunn's gang.

It also said the investigation into the shooting at their home in Nottingham was flawed, there was no proper risk assessment of the situation and the response to reports of a prowler in the days leading up to the murders was inadequate.

The unanimous verdict also found that BT operators contributed to the couple's death by passing on information about them to Gunn and his associates.

Colin Gunn
Colin Gunn had the couple killed in a revenge attack

But the jury cleared Lincolnshire Police of failing to protect the couple after they were asked by Nottinghamshire Police to call in on the couple hours before they were found murdered.

Entries from Mrs Stirland's diary were read out in court in which she criticised Nottinghamshire Police for failing to control the Gunns.

Witnesses said the couple had been warned by police there was a threat but officers had not felt the Gunn gang were capable of murder.

Colin Gunn, 40, of Bestwood, Nottingham, was jailed for 35 years over the murders which he ordered as retaliation after Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien, shot 22-year-old Marvyn Bradshaw dead outside a Nottingham pub in August 2003.

The "criminal community" in Nottingham believed the bullet was meant for Mr Bradshaw's friend and Colin Gunn's nephew, Jamie.

Watched from jail

Gunn's co-defendants John Russell, 29, and Michael McNee, 22, were jailed for 30 and 25 years respectively, in 2006.

O'Brien was allowed to watch the inquest proceedings in jail where he is serving a life sentence for murder.

Police apologise for gangland killings

Coroner Karon Monaghan QC said she would consider whether to make a further report following the jury's findings.

She said: "I offer my sincere condolences to the family of Mr and Mrs Stirland."

Chief Constable Julia Hodson apologised for the failings of Nottinghamshire Police but claimed the force was being stretched.

She said: "The couple were let down by organisational failures which compromised the potential protection that could, and should, have been offered to them.

"In addition, there were occasions when we did not provide adequate support to our own officers and staff, who were working with dedication and commitment in a period when the force was facing unprecedented demand."

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How crime boss took his revenge
24 Feb 10 |  Nottinghamshire
Police sorry over gangland murder
19 Feb 10 |  England
Murders prompted police changes
18 Feb 10 |  England
Corrupt officer fed data to Gunn
17 Feb 10 |  England
Victim's diary criticises police
16 Feb 10 |  England
Police feared 'corrupt' officers
15 Feb 10 |  England
Shot pair 'ignored move warning'
09 Feb 10 |  England

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