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Fugitive killer convicted after international manhunt that spanned more than three years

Shane O’Brien went on the run after the attack. Credit: Met Police

One of Britain’s most wanted fugitives has been convicted of murder following a three-and-a-half-year international manhunt.

Shane O’Brien slashed 21-year-old Josh Hanson’s neck in an act of “pitiless savagery” at a west London bar before fleeing the country in a private plane in 2015.

Council worker Mr Hanson clutched his neck as his horrified girlfriend watched blood pour out of a 37cm (14.5ins) gaping wound from his left ear to right chest.

Father-of-two O’Brien then calmly walked out of RE Bar in Hillingdon in the early hours of October 11, 2015 before enlisting the help of a friend called “Vanessa” to secure a private four-seat plane to take him from Biggin Hill airport to the Netherlands, the Old Bailey heard.

Following O'Brien's conviction, Mr Hanson's sister Brooke told reporters outside court on Tuesday: "My innocent brother got some justice today.

"I can never, ever bring him home. But I love you Josh and I know you're here and I know you can hear us and we hope we've done you proud."

His mother Tracey added: "For us, for nearly four years, every day has been a challenge. It's been a living nightmare.

"Today there are no more shadows cast upon my son, he is innocent, he was always innocent."

Josh Hanson, 21, was killed in the attack in a west London bar. Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

The court had heard how 31-year-old O'Brien grew long hair and a beard and got the tattoo of his child’s name covered over as he used false identity documents to travel to countries including Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

Friends helped the boxing and martial arts fan avoid authorities after he was added to both Europol and Interpol’s most wanted lists.

Shane O’Brien grew his hair and beard to change his appearance. Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA

Despite being arrested in Prague in 2017 for assault, he managed to slip through the net after using the alias Enzo Melloncelli and fleeing when released on bail.

O’Brien told jurors he had felt threatened by Mr Hanson’s “very aggressive body language”, saying he felt the roads planner was “ready to attack me” and may have been armed.

O'Brien had a huge tattoo on his back to cover up the names of his children. Credit: Met Police

At bar closing time, he approached Mr Hanson, asking him “what’s your problem?” before pulling the knife from a pocket of his expensive Canada Goose jacket and fatally slashing his victim.

O’Brien claimed he wanted only to “pretend to attack” Mr Hanson with the blade to “scare him”, adding: “From the bottom of my heart, I did not mean to touch him with that blade.”

But jurors convicted him of murder after 55 minutes of deliberations.

O’Brien stared ahead and showed no emotion as the guilty verdict was returned.

He will be sentenced by judge Nigel Lickley QC on October 17.

After an international manhunt, O’Brien was finally arrested in Romania on March 23 and brought back to Britain on April 5.

The court heard from a tattoo artist who carried out the inking on O'Brien.

O'Brien "cried like a baby" while getting the tattoo in Prague. The artist, named Thiago, inked a large piece on O'Brien's back in 2016 depicting an owl clutching a skull between its talons, concealing the name of one of his children.

Shane O’Brien evaded capture for more than three years. Credit: Met Police/PA

He said O'Brien was anxious to have the menacing image completed as quickly as possible and appeared evasive and on edge when asked about his background during small talk.

A statement the tattoo artist gave to police read out at the Old Bailey said: "I asked what he wanted and he said he wanted existing tattoos covered ... changed to something completely different.

"He asked for an owl and a skull, it would cover almost his whole back.

"He said he was not staying in Prague for too long."

The pair agreed to do three sittings over three days, lasting around three hours each.

Tracey Hanson with her late son Josh. Credit: Met Police

But on the third day, Thiago said: "When it came to the third session, when I started tattooing he cried like a baby and said it was really painful.

"He said he would come back the next day, as he would spend more time in Prague as he had found a job.

"I asked him what did he do here? He looked like he didn't want to tell me. I could see he didn't want to talk about it.

"He said he was from Italy ... then said his parents were from Italy and he was from Ireland."

The tattoo was completed after a month, and some time after that O'Brien was arrested in the Czech capital for assault in 2017.

A mugshot of him, bearded and long-haired in a bid to change his appearance, was then released which sparked a renewed appeal in the international hunt for him.

But he slipped through the net because he was not flagged as a fugitive as he had been using the alias Enzo Mellonceli, supported by false documentation.

Detective Chief Inspector Noel McHugh, from Scotland Yard, described the hunt for O’Brien as “hugely challenging”, saying: “He was funded, provided with false documents, encrypted mobile phones, well beyond the capability of the ordinary criminal.”

DCI Noel McHugh and Josh Hanson’s mother Tracey Hanson and his sister Brooke Hanson outside the Old Bailey. Credit: PA

Mr McHugh added: “A very dangerous individual has been found guilty of the murder of a young man who went out that night for nothing more than a few pints with his friends.

“Shane O’Brien had a very powerful build, he’s over 6ft. Josh was 5ft 6ins. He had real reach, real power about him.

“The way that he painted his version of events was very manipulative and controlling.

“Josh never stood a chance that night.”