Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Friday, 30 June 2006 12:51 UK

Murder plot gang get life terms

John Russell (left) and Michael McNee (right)
Russell (left) and McNee were convicted on Thursday

Three men convicted of plotting the execution-style shooting of a couple at their Lincolnshire seaside home have been given life sentences.

John, 55, and Joan Stirland, 51, were shot in their bungalow in August 2004.

Mr Justice Treacy ruled a 39-year-old defendant, who cannot be named, should serve at least 35 years.

Michael McNee, 21, of no fixed address, was jailed for at least 25 years and John Russell, 29, of Northcote Way, Nottingham, was jailed for 30 years.

They were all found guilty of conspiracy to murder.

The court heard the motive for the killings was revenge for a murder carried out by Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien, in Nottingham in 2003.

Joan and John Stirland
You, as a criminal man, are prepared to commit the ultimate act of criminal violence
Mr Justice Treacy

The judge told the three men: "These were shocking murders by any standards. They were nothing less than executions of totally innocent people.

"The Stirlands were killed in their own home for no reason other than that one of the victims was the mother of somebody you wanted to take revenge on."

Mr Justice Treacy described the unnamed 39-year-old as "a dominating leader of others".

He told the defendant: "You are a crook, a villain and a large-scale drug dealer.

"You were the leader of this criminal gang. To your gang your word was law."

At this point he began to hurl abuse at the judge and was removed from the court.

Continued investigation

Mr Justice Treacy then added: "The utterly evil nature of what you did shows that you, as a criminal man, are prepared to commit the ultimate act of criminal violence as and when it suits your purpose.

"You are prepared to do that due to a perverted desire for revenge."

Five other men were cleared of conspiracy to murder after a trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

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

Officers have said the investigation into the Stirlands' deaths is continuing and they believe there are more people to be brought to justice.

The couple, originally from Nottingham, were forced to flee after a gun attack on their home and moved to Trusthorpe, where they were killed eight months later.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is now investigating the communication between Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire police on the day of the killings and whether that compromised the Stirlands' safety.

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