His best friend was murdered. So, too, were the killer's parents. Now Jamie Gunn is laid to rest

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The Independent Online

Drenched by pouring rain, hundreds of mourners lined the streets around St Mary's church yesterday to watch a cortège pass. In an ornate Victorian-style coach, drawn by two white horses and laden with flowers, the emaciated body of 19-year-old Jamie Gunn was taken into the graveyard. His coffin was carried into the Nottingham church past heavy-set men with shaven heads.

Yesterday's funeral was the latest sad twist in an increasingly tortuous story that hit the national headlines only when it shattered a small seaside resort 80 miles away last Sunday. John Stirland, 55, and his wife Joan, 53, were murdered then in Trusthorpe, Lincolnshire, in a gangland-style hit. That took the story back to its apparent beginning, when Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien, shot and killed Mr Gunn's best friend, Marvyn Bradshaw, in error after a row in a pub a year ago.

Mr Gunn's family talked yesterday about how his friend's death had led to a downward spiral. As the young man was buried next to Mr Bradshaw, the Rev Christopher Gale told mourners: "He lived life to the full, but certainly the events of last year, the death of Marvyn, affected him and made his physical condition very poor. That incident changed Jamie so much he could hardly bear to speak about it. It certainly affected his health. It left him open to the pneumonia that killed him."

The father of a five-month-old boy, Mr Gunn failed to eat and began to drink heavily. Shortly before 9am on Monday 2 August, his brother Sam, 16, and sister Heidi, 15, returned to the family home to find him dead. The official cause of death was lobar pneumonia, but the Nottinghamshire coroner, Dr Nigel Chapman, acknowledged that the fact he had stopped looking after himself was a contributory factor. "The poor lad was just in a severe condition and that would have reduced his ability to beat infection," he said.

While local police denied that they were mingling with the mourners yesterday because their "presence would not be welcome", insiders insisted that officers were subtly keeping an eye on proceedings. A link between Mr Gunn's death and the apparently revenge-motivated murders of Mr and Mrs Stirland is still being investigated.

All three deaths appear to lead back to the night in August last year when O'Brien shot and killed Mr Bradshaw outside the Sporting Chance pub in Nottingham. It now stands in ruins, surrounded by the burning fires of its debris as demolition experts pull it down. It is an apt symbol for the lives touched by the events of that night. O'Brien, 23, along with his friend Gary Salmon had been banned from a late-night drinking session at the Sporting Chance. They went to Salmon's nearby home and returned with a shotgun.

Mr Bradshaw, an innocent bystander, was driving away from the pub with the bouncer Mr Gunn, one of two men in the back seat. The passengers ducked as they saw O'Brien and Salmon approach but Mr Bradshaw, a 22-year-old shopfitter, was hit. Mr Gunn cradled his friend in his arms as he died. It was to prove, in the words of his mother Julie Sheffield, 36, a terrible turning point for her son who went into "self-destruct mode", leading to his death last week.

Six days later, it would seem, the sorry saga would claim two more lives when Mr and Mrs Stirland were shot and killed. The couple had lived in fear ever since O'Brien murdered Mr Bradshaw. They fled their Nottingham home last September after shots were fired into their living room. The former nurse and factory worker eventually turned up in the quiet retirement community of Trusthorpe with just the clothes on their backs in December. They told few their names.

But the fear followed them. Mrs Stirland called her former home police force several times. On the day she died she telephoned to report her neighbour had spotted a prowler the night before. She emphasised that she did not want her background revealed and no attention drawn to her new home. At the very time a Nottinghamshire policeman was contacting the Lincolnshire force to report the prowler, two gunmen in baseball caps and blue boiler suits had turned up at the rented semi-detached bungalow. Their black VW Passat, stolen a week earlier, was found in flames two miles away at 2.30pm that day. When the officer responding to the original call turned up seven hours later, he found two bodies.

When O'Brien, incarcerated in Whitemoor high security prison after being convicted of murder last month, was told of his mother and stepfathers' murders, he was said to be extremely distressed. The question now is who would hate him enough to carry out such a revenge attack?

Certainly Mr Gunn's family blame his death on the events following O'Brien's murder of Mr Bradshaw. The victim's pleasant and well-liked family also have cause to loathe the killer, who taunted them as he was jailed. And Salmon, still on the run with a £10,000 reward on his head, would have reason to be angry that O'Brien had attempted in court to shift the blame for Mr Bradshaw's killing on to him. O'Brien, a self-confessed "bad boy", undoubtedly also had other enemies.

Over the past few years, Nottingham has had to contend with an increasing level of gang violence and gun crime. In July, the former coal miner Keith Frogson, 62, was killed in a frenzied attack, while Chanel Taylor, 23, was found nearby shot in the head later that month.

It this violent culture that led Chief Constable Steve Green to call for a "get tough" approach last month, insisting the "gentle touch" had bred a society of monsters. Six days ago the monstrous culture appeared to spread its tentacles to a peaceful seaside community.

COUNTDOWN TO KILLINGS

7 AUGUST

10.30pm: Prowler spotted wandering around Joan and John Stirland's bungalow in Trusthorpe, Lincolnshire.

8 AUGUST

11.30pm: Joan Stirland telephoned Nottinghamshire police to tell them of the sighting.

2pm: An officer returned the call to speak about prowler.

2.10pm: The officer informed Lincolnshire Police, pointing out that Mrs Stirland wanted a low-key response.

2-2.30pm: The couple are shot dead. Two men are seen fleeing from the house towards a dark saloon car.

2.30pm: A VW Passat, believed to be the same car, is spotted in flames two miles away.

3pm: The Nottinghamshire police officer confirmed his call to Lincolnshire by means of a fax.

9.24pm: A Lincolnshire policeman responded to the call and found the bodies of the Stirland's.

9 AUGUST

News of the double shootings emerged.

10 AUGUST

Police confirmed the identities of the dead couple along with the theory that the murders could be a revenge attack. It is revealed that the Stirland's had fled their Nottinghamshire home because Joan's son Michael O'Brien had murdered another man, Marvyn Bradshaw. Mr Bradshaw's best friend Jamie Gunn had died on 2 August.

11 AUGUST

Lincolnshire police revealed that Mrs Stirland had called to report the prowler just hours before her death. Threats had been made to the family previously. It emerged that the couple's ordeal began on 14 September last year when shots were fired at their Nottingham home.

12 AUGUST

Peter Davies, Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire, said lessons could be learnt about the seven hours it took to respond to the call.

13 AUGUST

Noon: Hundreds of mourners attend funeral of Jamie Gunn in Nottingham.