THE man found guilty of murdering Accrington businessman David Guilfoyle had appeared in court twice before, accused of biting off a man's ear and ducking a man in a canal and then whipping him with a wet T-shirt, the Observer can reveal today.
He was cleared of the former offence but convicted and given a suspended prison sentence for the latter.
Shane Fitzpatrick, 36, was convicted earlier this month of killing David Guilfoyle and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 20 years.
The former guillotine operator and father-of-three first appeared in court in 1991, when he was a 21-year-old student living in Owen Street, Accrington.
It was alleged that he had been walking along the canal towpath with two men when he asked victim John Barnes what he had been saying about him. He hit him, causing him to fall into the canal.
There was then a fight in the water with Fitzpatrick repeatedly holding Mr Barnes' head under the water for 20 seconds at a time.
When both got out Fitzpatrick whipped Mr Barnes with a wet T-shirt.
Fitzpatrick's defence counsel said he was a promising student with no previous record of violence.
He was jailed for three months, suspended for two years.
Four years later, in December 1995, when his then wife Debbie was six months pregnant, he was in court again, accused of biting off another man's ear in a pub brawl.
The incident happened at the Black Horse pub in Accrington after he had been playing seven-a-side football.
The prosecution claimed that as well as biting off part of Mark Stebbings' ear, Fitzpatrick also tried to gouge out his victim's eyes.
He claimed self-defence and the jury returned a unanimous not guilty verdict.
Fitzpatrick spoke to the Observer about his relief after walking free from court.
He said: "I have gone through 18 months of hell with a prison sentence hanging over my head. It has been a very stressful time for my wife and myself. I am just thankful it is all over.
"Debbie and I are delighted. We feel we can now look forward to the future."