A Yorkshire town that has become a battleground for feuding gangs

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It is the West Yorkshire town that cannot stay out of the spotlight: the scene of the successful manhunt for the missing nine-year-old Shannon Matthews, one-time home of the 7 July bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan, and the place where the Yorkshire Ripper was questioned after his arrest almost 30 years ago.

But the side of Dewsbury being revealed by community leaders and residents speaking out against a gang culture that is ravaging the town's estates, has rarely featured in the news media until now.

As seven youths – four 15-year-olds, two boys aged 12 and 13, and a 20-year-old – were being questioned by police last night over the death of 17-year-old Amar Aslam, local people described their growing fears over the town's no-go areas.

The Asian teenager was discovered by two passers-by on Sunday night having been subjected to what police describe as "a sustained and vicious beating" in Crow Nest Park, which is surrounded by divided housing estates that are increasingly dominated by gangs.

Here, the self-styled West Town Warriors and The Pilgrims – largely made up of white teenagers – do their best to intimidate the neighbourhood.

Julie Bushby, who helped in the search for Shannon Matthews in March, lives on the Dewsbury Moor estate near the park. "People get territorial," she said. "They see what they think are borders of their area and you get a gang forming. They call themselves the Dewsbury Moor Crew around our way."

The town's Labour MP, Shahid Malik, has called for "a change in society", with tougher sentencing for youths involved in killings such as that of Amar, which took place minutes from the MP's home. "At the moment I do not think the law is being applied as it might. I do not think harsh enough sentences are being imposed. Parents need to be more alert and take a far greater responsibility."

Certainly Amar's family, believed to be Pakistani, by all accounts did nothing to encourage his involvement in gangs.

"They are really nice," said a neighbour, who did not want to be named. "They came to Dewsbury from London about five years ago. [Amar] was a nice lad, very friendly. I used to see him playing football in the local park."

Amar's sister Samreen spoke movingly last night about losing the "baby of the family".

"This has shattered our family and it won't be the same without him. There will always be a gap where there is a part missing," she said in a statement issued through police.

"Amar's nickname was 'Moon' because he was like a shining moon to us. He was the second brother and the baby of the family. He was also very close to his family and especially his mum.

"He always kept himself to himself, was well liked by others and was always thinking of others."

A friend of the teenager, who did not want to be named, said of Amar: "He didn't like confrontation. He was so shy he would cross the road to avoid speaking to you. Whoever has done this is such a coward. Amar was slimly built, he had some illnesses in the past and he even looked frail at times."

Last night large sections of the park in which he was beaten to death remained sealed off as local residents described what went on in the area.

One person who lives nearby said Dewsbury's youths were styling themselves on low-level gangsters. "They go on about guns; they wave £50 notes about. They think they are big men," she said. "It is the West Town Warriors around here, but they are just kids really. They are a white gang and pretty much all they get up to is hanging around outside the shop and trying to intimidate people."

As well as the Warriors and another gang – the Ravey Terror Squad, which takes its name from nearby Ravensthorpe – the park where the killing took place "is mainly used by the Pilgrim lot".

"They go there to smoke, drink and chill out. In my view, that park isn't safe. I would go there when I was 15 but not now," the resident said.

This is a view dismissed by local politicians. Mr Malik said he held his annual gala in the park, while Dewsbury West councillor and Mayor of Kirklees, Karam Hussain, said it was "a safe, popular place". He added: "A lot of hard work went into making it that way."

But after the attack on Amar, so brutal and frenzied it took several hours for his body to be identified, those on the estates, as well as the teenager's family and friends, would be forgiven for thinking there is a lot more work to be done.