Murder by the Sea - Episode 4 case details: Colin Gunn
By James W, Monday 11th June 2018

Image of Colin Gunn from the series Murder by the Sea

Number of victims: 2 confirmed
Date of murders: 8th August 2004
Date of arrest: 17th March 2005
Date of sentencing: 30th June 2006
John Stirland (55)
Joan Stirland (51)
Method of murder: Gangland style execution shooting
Location: Trusthorpe, Lincolnshire

Colin Gunn ruled Nottingham by murderous violence and corruption. He ordered and oversaw the killing of the parents of a rival shooter, Joan and John Stirland, in 2004. Gunn's decision to order the murders took his organised crime cartel's violence to a new level. The murders were in revenge for the death of Jamie Gunn, Colin's 19-year-old nephew, who died on 2nd August that year. Jamie Gunn never recovered from watching his best friend, 22-year-old Marvyn Bradshaw, die in his arms from gunshot wounds fired by Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien. Jamie spiralled into a drink and drug binge that ultimately resulted in his death from pneumonia. Marvyn was shot dead by Michael O’Brien outside a Nottingham pub, ‘The Sporting Chance’ on 30th August 2003, however, Colin Gunn believed the bullet was meant for his nephew, and blamed O'Brien for Jamie Gunn's subsequent death.

The Stirlands were then marked for blood and shortly after, the Stirlands had to be moved into police protection after the front windows of their Nottingham home were shot out in a drive-by shooting. Joan Stirland even wrote a letter to Colin Gunn pleading for their lives, expressing how they had nothing to do with his nephew’s death. Tired of being constantly on the run and after moving several times, the Stirlands left police protection and set up home in a bungalow in Trusthorpe on the Lincolnshire coast. This decision would cost them their lives.

Joan and John Stirland were traced by Gunn’s criminal gang to their remote house after a telecommunications employee handed over their address. On the 8th of August 2004, the Stirlands made two phone calls to the police complaining about a prowler outside their bungalow. The Lincolnshire Police, not having any previous intelligence about the threat level the Stirlands faced, did not treat this incident with any priority. Despite Mrs Stirland speaking to her family liaison officer shortly before 2pm to report the stalker, the couple did not receive a visit from Lincolnshire police until 9:30pm. By that time, the couple were already dead. Mr Stirland had been shot six times in the chest, and his wife, a nurse, had suffered four gunshot wounds. The bullet to her neck was fatal.

The inquest was also told that detectives failed to hand over intelligence about a shooting involving one of Gunn's associates in Sutton on Sea, near Trusthorpe, to officers in charge of protecting the Stirlands. Detectives working on the murder of Marvyn Bradshaw and dealing regularly with the Stirlands did not even know about Operation Utah – the secret investigation studying Gunn and his cartel – because it was so classified, it was said. They did not therefore ask whether Gunn had any links to the Trusthorpe area when the Stirlands moved there in December 2003.

In addition to six murders and at least one unsolved "disappearance", police believe at least 54 non-fatal shootings in the years up to 2005 can be linked to Gunn's gang. Although Gunn operated from a modest bungalow in the area, he and his brother owned Porsche 4 x 4s and Nottinghamshire Police employed 81 separate operations, both covert and overt, and arrested more than 100 people in a bid to dismantle the Nottingham-based gang. Although he has been connected to at least 6 murders and 50 other shootings, Gunn used police insiders to feed him valuable information about investigations to stay one step ahead of the law.

Related show tags: MURDER BY THE SEA
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