Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Thursday, 29 June 2006 16:43 UK

Three guilty in 'revenge' murder

John Russell (left) and Michael McNee (right)
Russell (left) and McNee will be sentenced on Friday

Three men have been found guilty of conspiring to murder a couple at their seaside home.

John, 55, and Joan Stirland, 51, were shot at their house in Lincolnshire, in August 2004 in revenge for a murder their son committed, the court heard.

Michael McNee, 21, of no fixed address, John Russell, 29, of Northcote Way, Nottingham and a 39-year-old defendant, who cannot be named, were found guilty.

Five other defendants were cleared at Birmingham Crown Court.

Shane Bird, 39, of Carlton Hill, Nottingham, Kevin Holm, 38, of Cliff Road, Carlton, Lanelle Douglas, 20, Andrew McKinnon, 22, both of no fixed address and a 40-year-old defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were cleared of the charges.

The prosecution said the shootings were revenge for a murder carried out by Mrs Stirland's son Michael O'Brien in 2003.

Joan and John Stirland
This was a completely unnecessary and pointless killing of an innocent, loving couple
The Stirlands' family

The court heard the catalyst for the killings was the death of a teenager who was with O'Brien's victim the night he was shot.

Unable to cope with what had happened, the 18-year-old then turned to drugs.

He died of pneumonia a year after the murder.

The three sought to avenge the deaths and plotted the double murder from a caravan park in Ingoldmells, Lincolnshire, the court heard.

The couple were killed by two men who burst into their bungalow in Trusthorpe with Beretta pistols.

Prosecutor Timothy Spencer QC told the court: "Their vengeance was swift and devastating."

Mr Stirland was shot six times, his wife was shot four times.

The prosecution was unable to establish who pulled the trigger and admitted that not all the alleged gang members had been traced.

'Loving couple'

In a statement released by Lincolnshire Police, the Stirlands' family paid tribute to the "loving, caring couple".

It read: "This was a completely unnecessary and pointless killing of an innocent, loving couple.

"Losing John and Joan in this horrific, horrible way has devastated the family's lives beyond belief.

"The grandchildren will have to grow up not knowing their grandparents as they should have done."

Trusthorpe bungalow
If the police had acted more quickly to the prowler report then this killing could have been prevented
Prosecutor Timothy Spencer QC

An investigation is being carried out into the time it took police to react to a report from the Stirlands that they had seen a prowler near their home.

Mr Spencer, prosecuting, said it might be the case that the killings could have been prevented if police had acted more quickly.

A spokesperson from Lincolnshire Police said that it would be inappropriate to comment on circumstances surrounding the couple's death, while an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation was being carried out.

Len Jackson of the IPCC eastern region said the investigation would now be able to progress and it would examine how the Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire forces communicated.

The couple, originally from Nottingham, had fled the city after a gun attack on their home.

They moved to Trusthorpe about eight months before they were killed.

The three guilty men are due to be sentenced on Friday morning.

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