How a five-year-old boy ended up as the victim of one town's drug- fuelled amorality

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The Independent Online
This is five-year-old Dillon Hull, the youngest victim of Britain's spiralling descent into drug-fuelled amorality, a child so at risk that his stepfather tried to buy bullet-proof glass for his home just hours before a gunman fired two shots into the little boy's head.

As Dillon's neighbours in Deane, a once-proud suburb of Bolton, Greater Manchester, tried to come to terms with their new membership of gangster land, details emerged yesterday of the adult forces that had conspired to end his young life.

Dillon died on Wednesday evening because he got in the way of a crash- helmeted gunman apparently intent on settling a feud with his stepfather, John Bates, a 28-year-old with a record for possession who regularly came to the attention of police.

Armed officers were guarding Mr Bates at a secret location last night after witnesses came forward to say that he may know the identity of the man who killed Dillon and shot him in the stomach. His injuries are not life-threatening.

A firm of glaziers have told police that they were called on Wednesday morning to replace a window at Mr Bates' home in Jauncey Street which had been damaged by gunfire in the early hours.

"He asked whether we could supply bullet-resistant glass but we said his window was too large, so we sent laminated glass, the strongest we had," said Alan Moores, manager of Express Glaze in Ashton-under-Lyne. "When my lads got there, Mr Bates showed them a bullet hole in his living room wall and said: `I know who did this - and I'm going to get him.' My lads got the job done as quickly as they could and got the hell out of there."

Later that afternoon, shortly after 5pm, the gunman struck, shooting his victims in Bankfield Street in broad daylight. He then ran down an alley leaving a yellow Mini Metro behind.

Yesterday police said there was "no big drugs war in Bolton", but neighbours spoke of "rife" drug dealing in an area that used to be quiet and respectable.

In a clear sign that police may have been given a name by Mr Bates, Detective Superintendent Peter Ellis, the man leading the inquiry, said he had reason to believe the gunman was being harboured by other criminals and he appealed for them to turn him in.

"Whatever activity or business these people are in, I would ask them: `Where do you draw the line?' A five-year-old boy's life has been stolen away; he has been brutally murdered on the streets of Bolton," he said. "Please call me in confidence and help me catch this killer."

Mr Ellis said the car driven by the assailant and a crash-helmet he discarded at the scene were being examined by forensic scientists. The Metro had not been stolen, he said, but the previous owner had been eliminated from the inquiry. The car had changed hands seven times in recent weeks. Mr Ellis also revealed that closed-circuit television footage from nearby commercial premises was also being examined.

Neighbours described Dillon as a friendly, sociable and intelligent child, to whom his mother, Jane Hull - who gave birth to a baby boy three days ago - was devoted. Mr Ellis said Mr Bates was "known to police" and had been visited by officers on several occasions because of complaints by neighbours.

According to the Manchester Evening News, he had been convicted of possessing drugs and had been arrested more than once in connection with alleged intent to supply. Police refuse to discuss his antecedents.

In spite of his turbulent life, Mr Bates comes from a respectable, wealthy family. His father, Johnny, is well known locally as the proprietor of two large greengrocers. The family home is a large red-brick detached house set back from Bury Old Road in Ainsworth.

The Bates' declined to comment last night, but a family acquaintance said: "John doesn't get on with his father. A few years ago, Johnny disowned him because of his behaviour. I don't know what will happen to their relationship after this."

The streets of Deane were quiet yesterday, its residents shocked. Although smart by the standards of inner-city drug dealing areas, people spoke of known drug dens, all-night police patrols and fears of walking out at night.

At the end of Bankfield Street, flowers and wreaths were laid in memory of Dillon. "One of God's children brutally murdered," said one. Another, from a young friend read: "Sweet dreams, Power Ranger. RIP."

Mothers were keeping a tight rein on their children last night. "My daughter, Kirsty, used to play with Dillon," said Marie Butler, 25. "Thank God, she's away at the moment.

"When she comes back, I'm going to tell her he's in Heaven with the angels. I mean, how do you explain to a seven-year-old about grown-ups, and guns, and drugs."

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