Quiet drink that ended in murder

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The Independent Online
WHAT started out as a quiet evening drink with friends at a West Yorkshire pub ended in a nation-wide murder hunt for a doctor on the run.

The bloody chain of events began simply enough as Vicky Fletcher, 21, relaxed at the Castlefields public house in Castleford on Thursday night.

Stephen Thackray, the pub's manager, recalled Ms Fletcher seeing a man she knew standing outside in the car park, looking through the window.

"She went outside to meet him and then all hell broke loose. Shots were firing everywhere, and everyone dived for cover. Everyone was shouting 'get down, get down'.

"There were about 80 people inside the pub and bullets came straight through the inner doors and went into the bar. Glass and mirrors were shattered. It's miraculous no one else was hit."

Dawn Sanders, 33, took up the story: "I heard three shots and then another three and went dashing out, and saw the girl lying on the ground.

"She had been hit in the stomach and leg. Somebody tried to find a pulse and it was very faint.

"People were holding her hand and stroking it, telling her to hold on, but she was unconscious.

"Somebody from the pub rushed out with a dressing which they put on her side. There was blood everywhere; she was lying in a pool of blood - it was horrific."

Mr Thackray said that following the shooting he saw the gunman "casually walk back to his car, get into it and calmly drive away".

Ms Fletcher had managed to climb over metal railings and was heading back to the pub's entrance when the gunman fired again, leaving her dying on the ground.

Spent cartridge cases from a large automatic weapon littered the ground at the scene of the shooting yesterday and bullet marks could be seen in the brick wall of the pub and in the wooden window frames, next to a shattered window.

Police released the name of an anaesthetist, Dr Thomas Shanks, 47, who worked with Ms Fletcher at Pontefract General Infirmary, where the nurse died early yesterday of wounds to her back, arms and legs.

The couple had been having a stormy though long-standing relationship and are believed to have been involved in a heated row at a pub the night before the shooting.

Police said that Dr Shanks, a former Army officer, was "armed and dangerous", and warned the public not to approach him.

As a precaution, officers closed Kings Heath junior, infant and nursery schools, where the doctor's estranged wife works, and took Dr Shanks's nine-year-old daughter out of her school. Other relatives were also moved from their homes to other accommodation.

Armed police spent the afternoon watching the flat in the hospital grounds where Dr Shanks lived with Miss Fletcher, but the anaesthetist was not inside.

Miss Fletcher was described as an attractive, popular young woman who trained as a student nurse at Pontefract General Infirmary and had worked there as a state registered nurse since September 1997.

A medical colleague said the doctor was a lively, outgoing person who claimed to have been in the SAS before going to medical school, although the Ministry of Defence would only confirm that he had been a soldier in the Army. He joined in 1968 and left in 1978. He re-enlisted as a doctor in 1983 and was discharged in 1991.

New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, confirmed that Dr Shanks worked at the site from July 1993 until December 1994.

Dr Shanks left the hospital when his marriage hit the rocks, leaving his daughter in the Midlands with his wife.

The doctor, who has worked at Pontefract General Infirmary since January 1995, and lived in hospital accommodation there, was reported to have been seen in Pontefract at 8.55am yesterday.

Police said that they were still checking out reports of his sighting, and that searches for his car had so far proved fruitless.

The doctor was described yesterday as a "typical, tough Scot", who was "very fit", and did not "suffer fools gladly".

One neighbour said: "He lived with a pretty, blonde girl, but they were people I never saw close up. I thought he had a good position - he was fit, he had a good job and he seemed to be all right.

"On the face of it, he was a lucky fellow."