THE murder of John Kirby in Corporation Park in 1973 sent shockwaves through Blackburn.

The 32-year-old, who lived in Whalley Road, Samlesbury, was found in a pool of blood by a dog walker near Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School on the morning of November 4.

Lancashire police immediately launched a huge appeal to find the accountant’s killer.

Mr Kirby had spent a Saturday night drinking at the Merchants Hotel in Darwen Street, Blackburn, a popular gay pub at the time.

Ken Pilling, then-licensee of the Merchants Hotel, acted as a link man between Blackburn’s gay community and police. He said Corporation Park was a popular late-night meeting place for gay men.

After six days of frantically combing the park for clues, with police dogs and all five major Lancashire Task Forces involved, unemployed labourer Anthony Craig was arrested by detectives on November 10.

During his trial the following February, 26-year-old Craig, of Kendal Street, Blackburn, told Lancaster Crown Court he pretended to be gay so that he could rob him in the park.

Once there, Craig hit Mr Kirby twice with a brick. He stole just 2p.

Realising that his victim may not be dead and scared that Mr Kirby might recognise his attacker, Craig returned to the scene and struck him again on the back of the head with another stone.

Police displayed six bloodied stones to the jury at his trial. Craig, who had initially pleaded not guilty and said he used the bricks in self-defence, admitted he had lied under oath.

He revealed he had burnt the clothes he had worn on the night. A policeman had spotted him enter the park on November 3, nine hours before Mr Kirby’s body was discovered.

A pathologist said Mr Kirby died because the base of his skull had been shattered.

After a six-day trial, an all-male jury took a mere 45 minutes to find Craig guilty.

Craig, who had previous convictions for burglary and the possession of offensive weapons, was jailed for life. In February 1995, Craig went on-the-run for a month after absconding from prison in HMP Haverigg, Cumbria, to visit his sick brother.

He handed himself over to police in Manchester, and remained behind bars until he fled prison again in 2002 and headed for the Irish Republic, where he was arrested in February 2013.