Murdered couple feared for lives after killer son was jailed

Joan and John Stirland had arrived in the quiet seaside resort of Trusthorpe without any bags. The couple told few neighbours their names.

Joan and John Stirland had arrived in the quiet seaside resort of Trusthorpe without any bags. The couple told few neighbours their names.

Nobody knew that months earlier Mrs Stirland's son Michael O'Brien had murdered another young man outside a pub in Nottingham and that the couple had been in fear of their lives ever since.

Four months ago, without warning, the former nurse and factory worker left their home in Nottingham and moved to Trusthorpe in Lincolnshire.

They settled in the tiny retirement community, enjoying bingo nights and visits from their grandchildren.

But on Sunday, their new sanctuary was invaded. In what police believe may have been a revenge killing, two men in baseball caps and blue paper boiler suits turned up on their doorstep and shot them dead.

Witnesses said they were seen walking or running from the bungalow where a dark saloon was parked with its hazard lights flashing. Police say the murders were pre-planned and that the couple had been observed closely by their killers.

Yesterday the Stirland's small home remained cordoned off, a white tent outside the front, as police forensic teams searched for clues.

Friends from Nottingham described them as a lovely couple, who had enjoyed a laugh and a drink in the Sycamore Pub opposite their former home.

But their lives were ruined when Mrs Stirland's son shot a man. Last month Michael O'Brien was sentenced to life for the murder of 22-year-old Marvyn Bradshaw.

Nottingham Crown Court heard that the 23-year-old and his friend Gary Salmon had been banned from an after-hours drinking session at the now derelict Sporting Chance pub in Bulwell last August.

During a row O'Brien had been hit in the head with a bottle or ashtray. The court heard that he and Salmon, 32, then went to his house, put on dark clothing and balaclavas and collected a shotgun.

When they returned Mr Bradshaw, a hard working shopfitter, and three friends were driving away from the pub. O'Brien shot at the car, killing Mr Bradshaw. The court heard he was an innocent bystander. Bouncer Jamie Gunn, who was in the same car, was allegedly their target.

While Salmon remains at large with a £10,000 reward on his head, O'Brien showed no remorse when he was convicted. As he was sentenced he taunted Mr Bradshaw's family in the public gallery, declaring "I am a bad boy". He sneered as he told Lyndon and Christine Bradshaw: "I don't care. Your son looked like a doughnut with a big hole in his head."

But, in another twist, last Monday O'Brien's alleged target Jamie Gunn, a member of a very well known local Nottingham family, died. Police said the death was from natural causes, possibly pneumonia.

In dozens of death notices in the local paper, his family mourned the passing of a true friend and young father, outlining "all he had suffered" in the last year.

"We hope Marvyn was there to take your hand and guide you to your resting place," his mother wrote.

Mrs Stirland, 53, and her husband, 55 were deeply affected by O'Brien's crime.

Speaking at the Sycamore in the tough St Ann's area of Nottingham, one friend said: "I had known John for about 30 years - he was one of my best friends - and I came to know Joan through him a few years ago. She was an angel.

"She used to work as a nurse at the Queen's Medical Centre in the city and did a lot of charity work for children, selling raffle tickets and holding parties.

"But after what Michael did they were both a bag of nerves. Joan was even too nervous to go back to work. They were scared and simply had to go.

"They didn't tell us when they moved. As far as we know, the police just moved them on. They were moved to one place first and then moved again.

"No-one deserves what happened to them. They were the sort of people who would never harm anyone, but they were just terrified after what the lad did."

Barmaid Glenis Bone added: "They were just a normal, decent couple who got on with everyone and liked to come in for a drink and a laugh. Everyone here is in shock. They can't believe it has happened to such a nice, quiet couple."

When they moved to the village near Mablethorpe, Mrs Stirland would play bingo twice a week at a local campsite, always sat at the same table, drinking soda water. After each visit she would place £1 in the lifeboat charity box.

But the pressure was still evident. On Friday night, Mrs Stirland and her family were thrown out of a bingo contest for abusing other customers. Steve Mills, of Trusty's bar, said that it was not the first time he had warned them about their behaviour and language.

Last night Lincolnshire police revealed that they had found a burned-out car near the village on Sunday afternoon, hours before the murdered couple were found.

Meanwhile, a local youth who claimed to have seen the killers leaving the crime scene, said: "I was just getting into a taxi when I saw two men coming out of the house. They were both about six foot tall, wearing identical clothes.

"They were in blue paper suits, like police forensic men. I think that was so they didn't leave any traces behind. But I could still see their faces."

Mrs Stirland left behind two daughters and a son, while Mr Stirland also had a daughter and son from a previous relationship. O'Brien was informed of the death of his mother on Monday.

A police spokesman said: "He is extremely shocked and extremely distressed. We are not treating O'Brien in any other way than we are treating other family members."

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