Gun culture rules murder estate: Police seek motive for shooting of 14-year-old boy and express alarm at involvement of children in Moss Side drugs and firearms rackets

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The Independent Online
YOUNGSTERS on the estate where a 14-year-old boy was shot dead at the weekend are routinely obtaining firearms, sometimes to settle minor squabbles, police said yesterday.

Police have still not uncovered a motive for the death of John 'Benji' Stanley, who was hit by three blasts from a shotgun while waiting for a take-away at a restaurant in Moss Side, Manchester. But they have no evidence to link him with the drugs and firearms rackets which have engulfed the Manchester estate.

The estate has had a reputation as a no-go area for police in the past and officers have recorded an average of two shootings a week over the past six months.

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Smith, of Greater Manchester Police, expressed alarm yesterday at the involvement of children in the area's violence and the apparent ease with which they obtain firearms. One 16-year-old found in possession of a gun had appeared at Manchester magistrates' court on Saturday, the same day that John was killed.

Det Ch Insp Smith said: 'We're aware that youngsters are getting hold of guns, but it's not clear whether we have large numbers of guns flooding the area. It could be that one or two guns are being passed around a number of people.'

John Stalker, the former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said guns were now being used to settle 'petty jealousies'. Speaking on BBC radio he said that there had been an incident involving a gun between two teenagers arguing over the ownership of a mountain bike.

Children have already fallen victim to 'drive-by' shootings in the area. Two years ago Anthony Richards, then 12, lost an eye and Paul Sahedo, then 14, sustained a hip injury, when they were shot from a passing car.

After that attack a wave of reprisals followed in which a 20- year-old man was dragged from a pub and attacked with a machete. But, in accordance with the local code, witnesses rarely come forward and victims are loath to talk to police.

Police are concerned that guns, once largely confined to professional criminals, are now being used by petty offenders and are often linked with drug crimes. Since July, police have confirmed 40 shootings in the Moss Side area, although more than 100 were reported.

Two years ago the Hacienda Club, popular with Manchester youngsters, was temporarily closed down after drugs-related shootings on the premises.

Critics claim that the drug culture was allowed to take root in Moss Side during the 1980s in the hope that it could be contained there, but that the situation is now out of control.

Two years ago Richard Bowen, a drugs dealer, died after being shot in the face with a shotgun. It was one of dozens of shootings which led to the area being dubbed 'Britain's Bronx'.

But local people reject the label, claiming that the violence is routine and mundane, rooted in poverty and dilapidation. They say that drug dealing is seen as an easy way for youngsters to make money, which is then used to buy machetes and guns to protect ill- gotten gains.

Police investigating John's murder said yesterday that they had still found no motive.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ron Astles said John had no convictions and was 'a good lad'. He appealed for a woman who telephoned the police anonymously shortly after the shooting to come forward. Police believe she knows who was involved.

Police are still talking to John's 15-year-old friend Neville Gunning, who was with him in the West Indian take-away in Great Western Street when the killer, wearing a combat jacket and balaclava, burst in.

The Bishop of Hulme, whose area of responsibility includes Moss Side, yesterday blamed unemployment and poverty for the troubles. The Rt Rev Colin Scott, who is also acting Bishop of Manchester, said: 'I am frightened, as other people are, at the way young school-leavers are turning to drugs.'

Sir Ivan Lawrence, Conservative chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, urged parents, teachers and church leaders to instil greater respect for the law and the police into youngsters.

Sir Ivan said: 'We no longer teach our youngsters as they grow older respect for other people in society and their property. That is a fault of parents, a fault of schools. It may even be a fault of churches, and we've got to bring respect back.'

(Photograph omitted)