Bereaved mother offers hope in war on gun crime

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A bloody circle was completed in the early hours of Saturday morning in New Cross, south London.

Andrew Wanogho, 26, the man accused of murdering Damian Cope outside a West End nightclub in 2002, bled to death in the gutter - shot through the back and heart in a killing that will be seen as street justice to those familiar with gang culture.

Detectives have not ruled out the possibility that Mr Wanogho's murder was a revenge attack for Mr Cope's death, but he had many enemies. Known as "The Assassin" in the boxing ring and "Sparks" outside of it, Mr Wanogho was considered a hothead who had a history of firearms-related crime. When any cases against him came to court, witnesses would back out, as happened in his trial at the Old Bailey over the Cope murder. He was acquitted.

He survived an assassination attempt last summer and had taken to wearing a bulletproof vest.

The feeling among those who knew him is that Mr Wanogho's past caught up with him. But thoughts of a death avenged have not crossed the mind of Lucy Cope, Damian's mother. In an astonishing act of grace, she wants to launch a joint public appeal with Mr Wanogho's mother, Deborah, to help catch his killer.

"Andrew Wanogho is not a perpetrator now - he is a victim," she said yesterday. "My initial reaction was truly and deeply for his mother. I shed tears for her. This is not justice. It makes no difference it's Andrew Wanogho here. His mother doesn't deserve this."

After Damian's murder four years ago, Ms Cope set up the charity Mothers Against Guns, campaigning against the flood of firearms ending up in the hands of Britain's gangs. She estimates that she has had contact with 700 grieving relatives around the UK who have lost loved ones to gun violence. "You go to the mortuary and you see your dead son lying there six inches behind the glass," said Ms Cope. "Your initial reaction is to beat that glass - and it echoes.

"You know when they died it wasn't an accident, it wasn't an illness. At that specific moment when the bullet enters their body their life must flash before their eyes and as a mother you're not there for them. The scream comes from the pit of your despair," she said.

It is unclear if Andrew Wanogho ever saw his killer. He was on the poorly lit Pendrell Road in New Cross at 1.30am on Saturday when he was shot once in the back. The bullet pierced his heart and he staggered up the street. He was driven to the flat of Paul Wanogho, his brother, but by the time he arrived he was dead.

The murder is being investigated by officers from Operation Trident, the Metropolitan Police's black-on-black gun crime unit. Detectives say they are keeping an open mind, but are investigating the possibility that it was an ambush. "We can't rule out a connection with the Damian Cope murder at all, but we can't rule it in either," said one. "There are going to be very few witnesses, if any."

A 27-year-old woman and a 22-year-old man were arrested on Sunday and bailed until June.

Gun crime is rising and becoming more prevalent among teenagers, according to the head of Trident, Detective Chief Superintendent John Coles. Mr Wanogho's death is "basically the same old vicious circle that's been going on for 10 years," he said. "But we have more and more young British black kids carrying guns all the time. Last year we charged someone who was 14 with murder for the first time; others were 15, 16, 17 and 19. Before that we'd never had someone under 21 charged with murder," he said.

Gun crime rose slightly in the United Kingdom last year, to 11,110 incidents. There were 3,865 firearms offences in London, up 7 per cent, with Lambeth, Hackney and Haringey seeing 25 per cent rises. One tenth of all firearms offences in the UK are shootings: Trident dealt with 241 non-fatal shootings in the year to March - up by one third - with 15 fatal shootings.

But the problem is by no means confined to black communities: Operation Trafalgar, which deals with non-black shootings, saw a 44 per cent increase from 59 to 86 shootings.

"One boy said to me, 'In your day, you had knives. Now we have guns,'" said the Rev Nims Obunge, who heads anti-crime community programmes in London. "Guns are available, so they will be used as offensive weapons. Some young people say they feel 'untouchable' when they carry a gun; others won't give them up because of safety fears. We must find them an exit strategy to get out of these environments."

Police and community anti-gun programmes focus on children as young as six.

Yesterday in Pendrell Road, the blood and the police tape had been cleared, and a resident's car with a bullet hole in it had been taken away for repair. All that marked the spot where Mr Wanogho fell were eight bunches of flowers and a rainsodden pair of boxing gloves - a tribute to his days as a successful amateur middleweight.

"One of the realist niggas," read one message. "RIP Sparks, Love D x" said another. A girl who pulled up in a car said through her tears: "I met him at Bristol at the carnival and he was fun. He was 26, the same as me. He always had a joke to make me smile when I was down. I don't think he never murdered Damian."

She drove away and two different girls pull up. One laughed: "Don't be fooled, he was murdering scum! I've just come down here to see which mugs have put flowers down. He was bad work, everyone knows he killed Damian. I'm pleased he's dead."

Ms Cope said that she could not forgive Mr Wanogho for her son's death: "That pain doesn't go away. I can never forgive him: he showed no remorse and smirked at me in court. He got away with the perfect murder and went straight back into the drugs, the gang culture, the firearms.

"But something has to be learnt from his death. Let them learn the lessons - those who respected Andrew Wanogho, those who thought he was a hero, that there is always someone badder out there. No one is untouchable, no one can win with guns. Every bullet has a name on it."

Gun crime in the UK

* There were 11,110 gun crimes in the UK in 2005 - up 1 per cent on figures for the previous year. But that statistic masks huge rises of up to 50 per cent in some parts of the country.

* There were 3,865 firearms offences in London, up 7 per cent, in the 12 months to February.

* One in 10 were shootings, averaging one a day. The capital's black-on-black gun crime unit, Operation Trident, investigated 241 non-fatal shootings - up 33 per cent - and 15 murders (down one).

* Almost all were in Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Southwark, Brent or Lewisham.

* Trident's murder detection rate has soared from 20 per cent in 2000 to nearly 100 per cent. It recovered 2,000 rounds of ammunition and 120 firearms last year - among them a Mac-10 machine pistol that fires 1,100 rounds a minute.

* Operation Trafalgar, which targets gun crime in other communities, investigated 86 shootings - up 44 per cent.

* Self defence is given as the number one reason by teenagers in London who claimed to have carried a real or fake gun.

* The most pessimistic analysts believe there may be four million illegal firearms in the UK, including converted blank-firing replicas, which can explode in the hand when fired.

* 3,000 of the 100,000 handguns in private hands before May 2004, when the ban on unlicensed handguns was extended to blank-firing replicas, have been handed in.

* Customs seized 300 guns being brought into the UK illegally last year.