Turf-war murders over crack terrorise black music clubs

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The Independent Online
A WAVE of gun murders - including carefully planned killings and indiscriminate shooting into crowds - has caused terror in the black entertainment industry.

Police, who believe that many of the shootings are linked to a new turf- war over crack cocaine, have drawn up a list of 200 Jamaican-born criminals who they suspect are connected with gun crime in this country.

The violence, which has left at least four people dead, has brought fear to nightclubs across London and Birmingham. Reggae concerts have been cancelled and music award ceremonies called off to prevent further violence and as a mark of respect for the families of those who have been killed.

Scotland Yard admits that its efforts to trace the gunmen are being hampered by a lack of evidence, with witnesses extremely reluctant to come forward.

When two gunmen had a shoot-out in a crowded east London nightclub earlier this month, seven people were wounded in the crossfire. Yet the police were almost the last to find out. The victims - three women and four men - arrived at hospital in private cars.

By the time police got a tip-off - from a paramedic - and arrived at the scene of the shooting, Orchids nightclub in Kingsland High Street, Hackney, the venue was empty.

A police source said: "We were not even alerted by the [injured] people concerned. We need statements from people but they are sometimes very difficult to obtain. People often give false names and addresses."

The victims of the Orchids shooting suffered their wounds in a gun battle, but other recent shootings have the appearance of planned murders.

On 6 March, Jamaican-born Mervyn Sills, 36, was shot dead in front of 50 passers-by at 2.15pm on a busy street in Brixton, south London.

Only a handful of people were prepared to speak to the police and the killer has not been caught.

In another incident, detectives are hunting two men who walked into a music ticket agency in Lewisham, south-east London, at lunch-time on 13 April and shot the owner, Keith Balfour, 32, in the chest with a sub-machine-gun. The men made no attempt to disguise their faces and seemed unconcerned there were witnesses.

Two days earlier, Richard Parkinson, 30, a doorman at the Stratford Rex dance hall in east London, was shot dead as concert-goers arrived for a gig by the Jamaican reggae artist Beenie Man. Two people were injured by ricochets. A man has been charged with the murder.

The shootings have devastated the black music industry and prompted the Radio 1 DJ Chris Goldfinger to appeal for calm on his reggae show last weekend.

For more than a year, a team of detectives based in Lambeth, south London, has been compiling intelligence on Jamaican-born criminals. The Operation Trident squad includes a number of officers with Jamaican family backgrounds who have helped to make inroads into previously impenetrable criminal circles.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Kupis, head of the operation, revealed that a database had been compiled of 200 Jamaican-born criminals linked to gun crime in Britain.

"The reality, whether we like it or not, is that it's Jamaicans and very often they are illegal entrants," he said. "But we are there to support the community and we want people to stand up and give evidence so that we alienate a very small group of people who are not part of the community."

Hugh Ord, Metropolitan Police commander for south London, said initiatives were being developed to break the walls of silence that often surround such incidents.

He said members of black community groups were being asked to stand alongside police officers handing out leaflets requesting information on crimes. Pirate radio stations are even being used to broadcast appeals for witnesses.

Mr Ord said: "The vast majority of the black community are outraged by this behaviour. What we are seeing is that by working with the communities we get the help we need."

But black leaders said previous police tactics for tackling drug-dealing had deeply undermined the confidence of the community. Lee Jasper, director of the 1990 Trust, said: "They need to stop making alliances with unregistered informants and criminals, who are giving them the runaround, and build alliances with the communities who can give them real information." He added: "The stereotypical view of the police is that the black community is soft on drugs but we actually think the police are soft on drug-dealers."

Detectives in Birmingham are hunting the killers of Jamaican-born Michael Senior, 30, who was shot three times as he stood outside a nightclub in Handsworth on 1 March.

The killing was witnessed by queues of people waiting to go into Thasha's club and by others waiting at a taxi-rank. Despite this, police were unable to name the victim for three weeks until a former girlfriend flew from New York and identified the body.

Police investigating a series of similar shootings in the city have recovered American army issue machine-pistols capable of firing 1,100 rounds a minute, fitted with silencers and retractable shoulder-pieces.

The violence prompted the Birmingham coroner, Dr Richard Whittington, to make an unprecedented appeal for calm. "We do have a problem with people who possess guns and have no hesitation in using them," he said. "Not only do they kill their victims but there's a large number of other people at risk."