Anatomy of a murder: how a seven-year-old girl became victim of a Jamaican drugs feud

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The Independent Online

A Jamaican drugs gang murdered seven-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield and her guardian, Bertram Byfield, in a revenge shooting, the police are due to reveal tomorrow.

A Jamaican drugs gang murdered seven-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield and her guardian, Bertram Byfield, in a revenge shooting, the police are due to reveal tomorrow.

Scotland Yard detectives believe a hitman was either hired in London or sent by a Jamaican crack cocaine gang in a feud with Mr Byfield, a drugs dealer.

The nation was horrified at the double murder in which the killer shot dead Mr Byfield and then turned the gun on Toni-Ann to prevent her from identifying the murderer. She was shot in the back at point-blank range at her guardian's bedsit in Kensal Green, north-west London, on 14 September last year.

The police have discovered that Mr Byfield, 41, a convicted crack dealer, had been involved in a shooting in Jamaica in June 2003 with rival drug gangsters. The incident was not reported to the police at the time, and has only emerged after fresh inquiries.

Detectives are to appeal for information about the shooting, which they believe resulted in Mr Byfield being murdered. A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: "He was a drug dealer and had upset some people who sought revenge. It was an assassination-type killing. The intended victim was Byfield and Toni-Ann just happened to be there and may have known the killer or could recognise him, so she was shot as well."

The police no longer believe that a man who had previously been accused of shooting Mr Byfield in a separate incident is responsible. Robert Grant was identified as the prime suspect because he had been accused of shooting Bertram - also known as Tony - Byfield a year earlier, in what was believed to have been a feud over a woman.

Mr Byfield survived that attack in Lansbury Close, Willesden, London, on 29 January 2002, and named Mr Grant as the gunman. The 23-year-old, who faces deportation, was acquitted after a trial at the Old Bailey.

In April, a damning report by David Lambert, former assistant chief inspector at the Social Services Inspectorate, condemned Birmingham social workers for being obsessed with reuniting Toni-Ann with the person everyone believed to be her father. It was not until their deaths that DNA tests showed that Byfield was not her biological parent.

While under the protection of Birmingham City Council, Toni-Ann was placed with Mr Byfield's girlfriend in London so that she could be closer to him. However, social workers failed to ask the Metropolitan Police for information on the convicted drug dealer, or contact local authorities to inform them she was moving to the capital.

As many as 1,000 local people will gather tomorrow outside the house in Harrow Road where Toni-Ann was shot, to begin a peace march against gun crime. At their head will be Patsy Hopwood, whose 21-year-old son Kavian was murderedsix months before the Byfields were killed. "It is very important to say to the gunmen we have had enough," said the 44-year-old yesterday. "There are too many grieving families, too many fatherless children."

The march, organised by Not Another Drop, a local campaign to fight gun crime in Harlesden and Brent, will go through the estate where Mrs Hopwood identified the body of her son, and then on to the nearby Stonebridge recreation ground. There, local youngsters will perform music and poetry as part of a concerted move to reach teenagers before the gangs do.

Campaigners in Brent have been taking their message into schools, youth clubs and young offenders' institutions. With the help of youth ambassadors the youngsters can relate to, as well as former criminals, the campaigners are trying to convince the next generation to steer away from such violence.

Mrs Hopwood, a ward nurse and pillar of her local church, was a strict mother to her two sons and two daughters. Although Kavian had been caught in possession of drugs and driving without a licence, he remained close to his mother. Her greatest fear was that he would die in a car crash. She never dreamt he would be gunned down until the day she received a call to inform her that he was dead.

"Death can come knocking on your door any time," she said. "It is something you cannot prepare for. Before Kavian's death, I did not think I would bury him; I thought he would bury me. We never even talked about guns. It never even crossed my mind."

Kavian was studying IT and his girlfriend was expecting their first child. Now just over a year old, Takiela never saw the father whom she resembles closely.

Kavian was off to visit a friend on the Stonebridge estate at lunchtime when he was shot six times, in daylight, by an unknown gunman. Despite a £10,000 reward, no one has come forward with information.

Yesterday, sitting in her living room plastered with pictures of her eldest child, Mrs Hopwood brusquely brushed away tears as she explained how she had continued calling his mobile even after she had seen his body. "I just thought Kavian, please answer your mobile, please answer your mobile. When it sank in, it was about eight o'clock. I just went to bed and cried," she said. This year, on his birthday in June, his mother varnished the wooden cross at his grave and tidied up the flowers which engulf it.

Harlesden is not alone in suffering gun crime. Across London in the 12 months to June there were 3,554 firearms offences. But Harlesden does see more than its fair share, with 172 offences in the year to July. In the past fortnight alone, two young men were shot and killed.

Keetheswaran Shanmuganathan, 29, was getting into his car in nearby Kingsbury when he was killed. Days later, on a bank holiday Monday, just yards from where a street party used to be held during every Notting Hill Carnival, outside the house where Toni-Ann died, Lee Christopher Subaran, 27, was shot at point blank range.

Pamela Buchanan, who lives nearby, immediately recognised the sound when she heard the shots. "You develop a knowledge for sounds like that living around here," she said.

Many of the residents of Harlesden and the surrounding area live in what Mrs Hopwood calls the "comfort zone" she once inhabited, insisting that you simply get used to the violence. "We do worry but the police are trying their best," said the local shop manager Jina Gulam, 60. "Gun crime went up but it has dropped again."

Nevertheless, Mrs Hopwood insists, the local community still has a fight on its hands. "All I can say to people is that it's wake-up time," she said. "Enough is enough. These murderers are killing people for no reason at all."