Protection for witnesses at last after Notts couple's gun deaths
A NATIONAL witness protection scheme is being brought in eight years after a couple from Notts were gunned down in a revenge killing.
John and Joan Stirland were murdered at their Lincolnshire bungalow in August 2004.
The couple had fled to Trusthorpe, Lincolnshire, after shots were fired at their home in Carlton in 2003.
They had been traced by men working for Bestwood crime boss Colin Gunn and murdered in revenge for the killing of Marvyn Bradshaw by Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien.
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At the couple's inquest in 2010, Karon Monaghan QC, assistant deputy coroner for Lincolnshire, said a national witness protection scheme should be looked into.
And now the Government has announced the launch of its UK Protected Persons Service.
A Government spokesman said the new service would introduce better co-ordination and the sharing of intelligence between police forces and other services., so people would be protected wherever they chose to live in the country. It will come in to force in December 2013 and will be run by the National Crime Agency.
"People afforded protected person status due to a real and immediate risk to their lives will receive expert protection from a national service to support those who help bring criminals to justice," the spokesman said.
At the inquest into the deaths of Mr and Mrs Stirland, Ms Monaghan expressed concern the couple were offered witness protection before their deaths, but it had been conditional on them giving evidence into the death of Marvyn Bradshaw – not as witnesses to the shooting at their own home in Carlton.
The inquest also accused Notts Police of failing to share intelligence about the threat posed to the couple by Gunn's gang.
Marvyn Bradshaw was a friend of Colin Gunn's nephew, Jamie Gunn.
Jamie reportedly never recovered from seeing Mr Bradshaw's death and died of pneumonia in August 2004.
The Stirlands were shot dead the same month Jamie Gunn died and, in 2006, Colin Gunn, Michael McNee and John Russell were jailed for a total of 90 years for conspiracy to murder. O'Brien was convicted and jailed for Mr Bradshaw's murder in 2003.
Notts Police Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Ian Waterfield has since been involved in a national group working on the new scheme.
He will work alongside the Ministry of Justice and Association of Chief Police Officers to make sure it is introduced across the country.
Mr Waterfield said: "The introduction of the UK Protected Persons Service will ensure witnesses are supported no matter where they are in the country, as all forces will have a consistent and co-ordinated approach.
"Following the terrible murders of John and Joan Stirland in 2004 Notts Police implemented wide-reaching changes around witness protection and remains committed to ensuring all witnesses are afforded expert protection."
Notts Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping welcomed the move, saying it could help more witnesses come forward.
He added: "This in turn will see an increased number of criminals held to account for their actions."
Sue Younger, senior service delivery manager for the witness service section of Victim Support Notts, said she thought the deaths of the Stirlands were a "contributory factor" in forcing change.
She added: "If a scheme is working right across the country to the same high standards it will help victims and witnesses to feel safer when they are in court giving evidence.
"Care for victims and witnesses has come to the forefront in the last few years and improvements are being made all the time."